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Table of Contents
VOLUME 18 NO. 4
VOL. 18 NO. 4 DECEMBER 1972
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
5. Editor's Note on Contributors
9. Emergence of a National Drama in the West Indies
41. Ole Times
43. The Discharge
Glenn D. Godfrey
53. Seasons Greetings, Love and Revolution
54. West Street
E. Lloyd Napier
56. Conference Jan. '71
57. Alejo Carpentier: Regionalist or Universalist
67. The Man
70. Before the People became Popular
74. In Memoria
75. Requiem for a Caribbean Fisherman
76. A Few Lines written to a friend slowly dying in Viet Nam
77. Sufferers Bay
78. The Novel as Sociology as Bore
82. Seven Jamaican Poets ed. Mervyn Morris
84. On the Coast Wayne Brown
Lee S.D. Johnson
87. Publications of the Department
88. Books Received
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
R.M. Nettleford, Director of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
Lloyd Braithwaite, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., St. Augustine, Trinidad.
Sidney Martin, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., Cave Hill, Barbados.
Roy Augier, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica.
J.J. Figueroa, Professor, Faculty of Education, U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica.
G.A. Alleyne, Professor, Medical Research Council, U.W.I., Mona.
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, U.W.I., Mona.
Patricia Williams, Department of Extra-Mural Studies, U.W.I., Mona,
Jamaica. (Assoc. Editor).
Kenneth Ramchand, Department of English U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica.
(Asst. Editor by Invitation for this issue).
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) + Postage
(a) Jamaica $2.00 (J.)
(b) Eastern Caribbean $5.00 (E.C.)
U.S.A. and other countries $4.00 (U.S.) + Postage
Subscription orders may be forwarded to the Editor or to the Resident
Tutor at University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by this
The Shape of Things To Come: Scope University Press (1971) U.W.I., Mona.
Reprint permission for the poems by Stanley Reid, Paul Douglas, Dion McTair
and Rawle Gibbons.
Moods 71 (June 1971) Reprint permission. Miss Sybil James, The
Teachers College, Mandeville, Jamaica, for poems by Bernal Reid and E. Lloyd
EDITORS' NOTE ON CONTRIBUTORS
This issue is evidence of the continued support of CARIBBEAN
QUARTERLY and our relevance to writers in the region. The articles and poems
published here may seem to fall together but are in fact a selection of the
unsolicited material reaching the editor's desk over the past year or so.
ERROL HILL Professor of Drama and Chairman of the Drama Department
at Dartmouth College, U.S.A. sent us for first publication the text of his
contribution on the origins of native W.I. theatre given to the 1971 ACLALS
conference at Mona, Jamaica and adds a postscript on theatre in Jamaica since
Marcus Garvey. His longer work published by University of Texas Press is called
The Trinidad Carnival, Mandate for a National Theatre.
Also given to us for first publication was Readers' Digest-UNCF prize-winning
short story by GLENN GODFREY of British Honduras whose ironic insight of
the modern/traditional confrontation is seen in the story of a typical Caribbean
GEORGE IRISH Resident Tutor of the Extra-Mural Department,
Montserrat, and former UWI lecturer in Hispanic literature continues his interest
in the relationship of Spanish Caribbean literature to the culture of the whole
region in his contribution on Alejo Carpentier's exploration of the Caribbean
personality. In "Before the People became Popular" KEN RAMCHAND of the
UWI English Department discusses how four W.I. novelists related to their raw
material 'the folk' This is the longer version of his introduction to the 1970
West Indian Bibliography in the Journal of Commonwealth Literature. Dr.
Ramchand also assisted us in the presentation of this issue.
The literary criticism of the well known Extra-Mural Staff Tutors JOHN
HEARNE and HUGH MORRISON discuss the merits of recent work by
Jamaican writers appearing in the form of the novel and anthology.
The poets in this issue fall naturally into two groups. First, the better
known WAYNE BROWN, Trinidadian UWI graduate in English, whose
recently published his collection of poems On the coast is reviewed here by
fellow Trinidad English student LEE S.B. JOHNSON, also contributes a poem
"for George Lamming: JUDY MILES of Trinidad whose has had work
published in Bim, Voices and Breaklight will be having her collection of poems
published shortly. A.L. (Micky) HENDRIKS' voice has been heard for many
years writing with love and linguistic insight on typical Caribbean scenes.
Of the younger poets, some are students like the UWI undergrads STANLEY
REID of St. Lucia, PAUL DOUGLAS of Grenada, DION McTAIR and RAWLE
GIBBONS of Trinidad, and some are teacher trainees from Mandeville Teachers'
College, Jamaica BERNAL REID and E. LLOYD NAPIER whose dramatic flair
has earned recognition at Howard University. The others representative of
flowering poetry writing groups in the islands are ROBERT LEE and
McDONALD DIXON of St. Lucia. These smaller collections testify to the spirit
moving throughout the Caribbean an awareness of the need for change and
rebirth which has related poetry more immediately and relevant to the society
than ever before.
This issue of new poems and other writings is but a small contribution to the
collection of new writing that is part of the creative upsurge of the 1970's
in our region.
The story of Codrington College by Professor George Simmons (Vol. 18. 3.
September 1972) is most informative and brings to light correspondence which
was in its totality hitherto unknown even to persons closely connected with
Codrington College and interested in its development. Professor Simmons has,
therefore, performed a valuable task and his documenting of the correspondence
relating to the continued affiliation between Codrington College and Durham
University should prove most useful to scholars interested in the history of
Professor Simmons is a Barbadian who studied at Universities in the U.S.A.
and in Scotland, and has a Doctorate in Education from Harvard University. He
has shown much interest in, and has done considerable research on Codrington
College, an external College of Durham University, which until the establishment
of the University of the West Indies was the only institution in the West Indies at
which one could read for a degree. Professor Simmons has previously put out the
following publications on Codrington College:
1. "The Legitimacy of Codrington College, Barbados" New World,
December, 1969, pp. 39-49.
2. "Codrington College in Barbados, Legacy of Christopher Codrington
of All Souls", Paedagogica Historica, The International Journal of the
History of Education, Winter, 1969, Vol. IX, No. 2, pp. 474-496.
3. "Christopher Codrington of all Souls: Scholar, Soldier, Colonial
Administrator", accepted by Institute of Caribbean Studies, University
of Puerto Rico.
4. "The History of Codrington College in Barbados", 1710-1971. 10
Chapters submitted to the University of Florida Press.
Dr. Simmons, currently Professor and Chairman of the Department of Social and
Humanistic Foundations of Education, is therefore writing from a background
of knowledge of the history of Codrington College.
There is an error not Professor Simmons' in Professor Duguid's report to
the Vice-Chancellor about his mission to the West Indies. He refers to the then
Registrar of the University College of the West Indies as a graduate of
Codrington. In 1954, Mr. (now Sir) Hugh Springer was Registrar of U.C.W.I.
Although in the late thirties Sir Hugh spent a year as Professor of Classics at
Codrington College, he was not himself an old Codringtonian, having studied for
his degree in Classics at Hertford College, Oxford.
In Professor Simmons' assessment of Codrington's contribution to education
in Barbados and the West Indies, I think that Professor Simmons has not brought
out the tremendous effect that Codrington College has had on education in the
Windward and Leeward Islands, where it was rare to find a school on which old
Codringtonians had not made their mark: indeed, before the second world war
when posts in the top secondary schools in Barbados were very largely filled by
expatriates, most of the non-theological graduates of Codrington had to find
jobs outside of Barbados and those who had done theology in most cases
taught part-time in schools.
I also take issue with him where in dealing with the reasons for Codrington
College not developing into a centre of learning for the West Indies, he appears
to give as one of the reasons the fact that the professors never looked upon the
College as their home and even though some remained as many as twenty years,
they eventually "went home" I cannot see an institution being regarded as
"home" and it seems natural for people to go back to their native land on
promotion, on transfers or on retirement. Intellectuals in orders tend to move
from Lectureships and Professorships to Archdeaconships, Bishoprics, etc. As a
matter of fact several of the Professors did remain in the West Indies:-
Professor H.H. Hancock, Professor of Classics 1883-1892, after leaving
Codrington remained in the West Indies for the rest of his life, serving first
as Classical Master at Queen's Royal College in Trinidad, then as its
Headmaster and later as Director of Education. In 1926 after the fire at
Codrington, he wrote to the Principal referring to Codrington as his
"second so happy home"
Arthur Anstey, Principal 1911-18, after leaving Codrington became Bishop
of Trinidad and later Archbishop of the West Indies, going home in the
forties when he was compelled to do so by a breakdown in his health.
The Rev. Hopkins, Professor of Philosophy in the thirties, who remained
on in Barbados for some 10-15 years after leaving and either died in
Barbados or went home to die.
The Rev. Dr. J.C. Wippell, on whom the U.W.I. recently conferred an
Honorary Degree. He was at Codrington for 34 years most of that time
as Principal and has lived in Jamaica in the 27 years since his retirement.
The Rev. B.N. Vaughan, Professor of Classics in the forties, who came to
Jamaica as Suffragan Bishop after he left Codrington, and later until his
retirement a few months ago, served as Bishop of British Honduras.
The point is that Codrington College's failure to develop was due largely to its
pre-occupation with theological studies and its lack of interest in other
disciplines this being a true reflection of Christopher Codrington's will.
Generally I have found the article a most useful and illuminating one, and am
glad that Professor Simmons found time to do this particular bit of research.
THE EMERGENCE OF A NATIONAL DRAMA
IN THE WEST INDIES
A paper delivered at the Conference of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and
Language Studies held at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, in January 1971.
This must be the first occasion on which West Indian Drama is being
discussed at an international gathering of scholars. For that reason I have tried,
in my presentation, to be as thorough as my records, my own experience, and
time allow. Inevitably there are omissions in this survey; and having lived outside
the West Indies for the last five years my information on more recent
developments is admittedly spotty. I would ask therefore that you consider my
address this morning as representing work in progress rather than a definitive
report. I have tried to be factual and objective, a not too easy task for one who
has been intimately involved in the West Indian drama and theatre movement for
a quarter of a century. I speak sometimes of a national drama, referring to the
West Indies, indeed to the English-speaking Caribbean, as a single cultural unit as
if our politicians had not determined otherwise. The account is much too long. I
beg your indulgence to allow the presentation in its entirety.
Drama has always seemed to me a bastard relative in the literature family.
The reason is not hard to find. It is the only literary form that remains
unfinished when the author has completed work on the manuscript. In all other
genres of creative writing poetry, the novel, short story, or the familiar essay
the author is wholly responsible for a finished work of the imagination.
Through his writing he addresses himself directly to his audience without the
need for interpreters. Not so with drama. The play needs a stage existence to
realize its being. Without this living production it remains a bolom, a foetal child
crying for birth.
When a play is produced and the script revised as a result of this first
production, when finally it appears in print, the dramatic script is still not a
discrete art object. It is no substitute for performance. We are grateful to have
the script; so often it is the only permanent record of a play's existence, but we
must beware of treating it as the end product. If I may borrow, and in the
process adapt, the analogy cited by Lee Simonson, American scenographer, the
playwright's script is the intention, the play performed is the work of art, the
published play is the corpse. In dealing therefore with dramatic literature, the
work of literary scholars and critics can be sterile if it is not informed by a
thorough understanding of the fundamental differences between drama and
other forms of literature. Normal literary criteria cannot solely be applied in
judging a playscript. I need hardly remind you of the fate of English romantic
poets who tried to write a literary drama without reference to the practising
theatre. Few of their plays were ever performed; today they are literary
An indication of the significant differences between drama and other
literature is appropriate here and will help to develop my argument. Let me
repeat: a play is conceived as a vehicle for performance. This means that the
language of the play must be speakable. It must be "heard" language, not
necessarily the sort of stylistic writing that encourages us to sit back, savour, and
enjoy in quiet reflection. Speech rhythms, colour, and cadence have to
approximate the daily speech of people represented in the play. This does not
imply a literal imitation of vernacular speech; we are in the realm of art, not
journalese or linguistics. But if stage characters are to come alive as authentic
artistic creations, they cannot avoid using a language that bears a distinct
relationship to a living original.
The play conceived for performance means also that dialogue is merely one
element and need not be the most important one in the creation of a total
life environment. Literary-oriented scholars mesmerised by the word should take
note. After all drama is action not language, and action can be realized in a
variety of ways of which the spoken word is but one. Movement, rhythms,
sounds of all kinds, light, and colour also help to produce stage action, and the
playwright is a better craftsman for recognizing this fact.
Unquestionably the word has a significant place in drama if only because it is
supposed to elucidate the action more precisely than other elements. Yet in our
time we have seen over-reliance on the word as a medium of objective meaning
produce not clarification but greater confusion. The so-called drama of the
absurd cautions us not only that existence is meaningless but that dependence
on language to define and portray that existence can also be a fruitless
endeavour. To retain its power and place of primacy in drama, language must
function at a level other than literal communication. It must become what John
Hearne once described as "a religious celebration of otherwise indefinable
mysteries;" it must become poetry.
So drama, unlike other literary genres, is realized in performance. The play
creates a living world in which people inter-act by word, movement and gesture
with other people as well as with the physical environment around them. Drama
uses language that is heard; ideally this should be poetic in concept extracted
from the idiom of direct speech. The dramatist relies on a company of actors
and stage technicians to assist him in bringing his script to actuality. This
reliance presupposes the existence of a theatre company willing to stage his play
and equipped with the skills and resources adequately to realize its potential.
If all this seems obvious, it cannot be taken for granted. Whenever great
drama is produced there is close correspondence between playwright and theatre
company, for the latter are partners in the creative act. After more than a
quarter of a century in the theatre, both as teacher and practitioner, I know of
no substitute for the interpretation of a character by an actor faced with the
problem of making every moment on stage meaningful to him and to his
audience in terms of an immediate objective that he seeks to attain. The
playwright needs a devoted and talented company as much as the company
Sharing too in the creative act is the audience. It is, I believe, indisputable
that more than any other form of literature, a play is written with a particular
audience in mind. This belief is substantiated by the frequent attempts to update
old plays when they are revived for modern audiences. Even contemporary
plays, when they move from one country to another, undergo a sea-change and
not only because of transliteration. Plays are adjusted to the culture of their
audience in order to encourage greater rapport between audience and player
because of the known effect that an audience has on performance.
Still another point is that the presence of an audience at a performance
compels the dramatist to think always in terms of an ongoing present action.
Dramatic events may occur antecedent to the play or offstage during the action
of the play, but the recital of such events constitutes a present action and
produces a concomitant reaction on speaker as well as audience. It is this
simultaneity of effect on actor as character and on audience that makes drama
an important communal activity. In sum, drama is a social act in contrast to the
private act of writing a poem or a novel that is addressed to the individual
reader. This is perhaps the crucial difference; and it should be an important
criterion in evaluating the dramatic contribution of any people.
Having outlined my approach to drama, I turn now to the West Indies. Since
we are concerned with the play in performance we shall begin with the earliest
theatrical activity in the area. In his book, Revels in Jamaica (1937) Richardson
Wright notes that Jamaica had a public theatre back in 1682, and he quotes a
report that in the eighteenth century, New York actors took pride in advertising
themselves as "fresh from the theatre in Jamaica" Barbados had organized
dramatics in 1729; George Washington, destined to become the first American
president, saw his first play there in 1751. It was George Lillo's The London
Merchant premiered in London twenty years' earlier. Not bad for keeping up
with the Joneses. By 1812, says Wright, Barbadians had raised funds, built a
theatre, and were actually exporting actors to Jamaica. Antigua had its first
theatre in 1788 and St. Lucia in 1832. Mr. Wright ends his illuminating record in
1838, the year when the abolition of slavery was finally achieved.
Wright admits that his book deals primarily with "the upper crust, the very
thin upper crust, of the Jamaican social scale" There is indeed a short chapter
on slave amusements, such as the market day frolics, John Canoe, the set girls,
and the musical instruments used by blacks. But these are treated as
peculiarities, a touch of native flavouring to spice up what is otherwise a record
of English drama and theatre in an outpost of Empire. Occasionally plays like
Cumberland's The West Indian (1771) and the musical, Inkle and Yarico (1787)
by Colman the Younger, set on a plantation in Barbados, were performed
dealing with some aspect of West Indian life. Such plays were written by British
playwrights unfamiliar with the West Indies who chose their material either for
exotic appeal or to support the burgeoning anti-slavery campaign in the late
eighteenth century. Moreover such plays, like the rest of the drama presented
over these one hundred and fifty years in the West Indies, were intended for
Wright's "thin upper crust" the social elite whose cultural heritage reposed in
Prior to emancipation sporadic playwriting in Jamaica was attempted by
members of theatrical touring companies who wrote mainly farcical afterpieces
for their programmes or adapted European plays and vaudevilles to the local
scene. The American Company, a professional troupe of principally English
actors that had migrated to the North American colonies, took refuge in Jamaica
during the war of independence. While there the company presented in 1780 a
locally-written farce titled Theatrical Candidates on the vicissitudes of theatrical
touring life. The next year an Irish actor in the company, John Henry by name,
wrote for his benefit performance a four-act drama called School for Soldiers or,
The Deserter. The play was presumably based on a similar work by Charles
Dibdin. Yet another actor in this important company, Miss Cheer (Margaret
Cheer Cameron), produced a play, West Indian Lady's Arrival in London (1781),
to which objection was taken because her heroine assumed "the dialect peculiar
to a few in this Island." Miss Cheer hastened to explain that the lady "for a time
lay aside the elegance of her character and assumed an awkwardness" in order to
get rid of three English sharpers and reward the passion of a countryman of her
own with a large fortune. Although Henry's play was published in Jamaica in
1783, none of the above texts was immediately available for inspection.
From nineteenth century Jamaica three plays survive. The first, entitled
Pelham (1847), author unknown, is a five-act dramatization of a novel by
Bulwer Lytton and need concern us no further. It has nothing to do with
Jamaica or the West Indies. The second drama is a one-act farce entitled Next Of
Kin, or, Who Is the Heir (1855) by Philip Labatt, a native of Kingston though
you would not think it to read his play. It too is not identifiably Jamaican. The
third Jamaican play of the last century is a tragedy in five acts called Malcolm
and Alonzo, or, The Secret Murder of Leonard (1880) by John Duff Spraggs. It
is a revenge melodrama written in rhymed couplets.
Only one character gives this play its Jamaican flavour. He is Tobie, a
labourer who lives "on a pen two miles out of the city", speaks in the
vernacular, and is used as comic relief. The author, however, is not insensitive to
the condition of the Jamaican worker and although Tobie's dialect is meant to
amuse, what he says has a serious import. Asked by the son of an old planter
how he is getting on, Tobie replies:
Me work ya, sa, till all my han kin peel,
If you see dem sometime, you ha't wi feel
Me mek but bery little money, ya
Me work fe true an true, but pay is small,
Money is mek, but massa keep mose all;
Him put am up da Bank, say it fe tan
Till when Miss Mora get one good husband,
And den him gie 't fe him and fe de man.
Trinidad is omitted in Richard Wright's account. It was the last major island
to be colonised under the plantation system. By the 1920's Port-of-Spain, the
capital city, could boast three theatres and five performing companies at one
time; two of the companies being English and French touring professionals.
Again the repertoire was all imported plays, the single exception being a group
of short plays including a satiric musical farce entitled, Martial Law (1832), by
Edward Lanza Joseph, a Scotsman who had made Trinidad his home.
Joseph arrived in Trinidad about 1820 and died in 1840. He wrote poems, a
biography, a history of the island, and several plays, and he was familiarly
dubbed "the bard of Trinidad." His little drama, performed by the Brunswick
Amateurs in Port-of-Spain, is set against the background of the annual Christmas
muster of troops intended as a deterrent to slave uprisings during the festive
season. While the audience for this production was still the small ruling class, the
lengthy review indicates that the play was acutely relevant to contemporary life
on the island. The reviewer wrote:
"The little drama in question is perfectly local; and whilst individual
satire has been judiciously and totally avoided, yet as each character
is introduced we feel it is not the first time we have met, and we are
proportionately glad to renew our acquaintance in this manner.
The characters are drawn from different social classes and some of them carry
names peculiarly Trinidadian. Callalou, for instance, is an English planter who
has misappropriated a fortune of ten thousand dollars left to his ward, Cecil. She
is a Creole girl of Spanish Main stock. Snowball is a black drill sergeant of the
West Indian Regiment. Borem is a plagiarist; Thornton, a punster; and Banter, a
laughing philosopher. The play is reminiscent of the witty comedies of Sheridan
who was an extremely popular dramatist in this period. It contains several songs,
some of which give a foretaste of Gilbertian musical satire that was yet to arrive.
In Act II, Scene 2, Banter delivers the "Humbug Song" that, according to the
review, provided a highpoint of the evening's entertainment:
Oh 'tis humbug, useful humbug, that the world goes
For universal humbug in every state is found,
In writing we say, "dear sir," to those whom we mean
We subscribe "obedient servant" and wish them to the
Shake hands with those whom we detest to prove our
And say we're glad to seem them the humbug's understood.
Oh 'tis humbug, useful humbug, that the world goes
For universal humbug in every state is found.
Most writers are mere humbugs for plagiary's their trade,
Reviewers too are humbugs who criticise as paid,
The puff of periodicals in humbugging transcends
And politicians humbug to serve their private ends.
The lawyer is a humbug who pleads in every case,
The patriot is a humbug for all he wants is place.
In another hilarious scene Callalou, who under Martial Law has been
appointed an Ensign, gets a drill lesson from Snowball during which the former's
total ignorance of military procedure is exposed. This satire of the militia is
strikingly paralleled by one of the first Negro masquerade bands that appeared
after emancipation in the Trinidad carnival in 1838. It was a parody of the
Royal Artillery company with marching and wheelings included, and with
recognizable caricatures of the English army officers from the Commandant
down to two subalterns.
The next two plays available from Trinidad have several things in common.
Both were published in local newspapers and their authorship is unknown. Both
are political satires dealing with the annual masquerade. There is no record either
was performed. The first play, published in 1847, is a one-act farce written in
French under the Creole title: Proverbe Creole: ca qui pas bon pour z'oies, pas
bon pour canards, (Creole proverb: what's good for the goose is good for the
gander.) It is a defence of the negro masquerade that had been banned by
Governor MacLeod the previous year and reinstated by his successor in office,
Lord Harris. The second play, published in 1881 and titled, The Old Regime vs.
The New, or, Colonial Prejudice, is a dialogue in two short scenes burlesquing
three public officials including the notorious Captain Baker, Inspector of Police.
It was Baker who tried forcibly to stamp out the negro canboulay procession
during the 1881 carnival and caused a serious riot in the city.
Although neither play was apparently performed, both are important
historically. They dealt with one of the major issues of the time which affected
the lives of a substantial segment of the Trinidad people who lacked a
spokesman in the higher circles of government. The French play is superior; the
writer knows his stage, entrances and exits are effective, and action
accompanying the dialogue is described. The second play is more of a political
tract than a drama, but it is hard-hitting and courageous in its satire and merits
As we approach the end of the nineteenth century, we can draw a few
conclusions from the theatrical experience of the past. First, it is noteworthy
that a proportionately small group comprising a social elite was able to support
regular theatrical activity in the West Indies. The performed dramas were for the
most part alien to the territories, alien in the sense that they said little or
nothing about conditions of Caribbean life. But the theatre represented part of
the cultural heritage of the ruling class, these dramas spoke in terms that their
audience understood and appreciated, hence support for the theatre was
We have repeatedly heard the complaint in the West Indies that, with our far
greater population today, there is not enough mass support for a professional
theatre. This, I contend is only a half-truth. While the capital costs of building
and equipping a modern theatre plant may well have to be provided from
outside funds, it should be possible with careful management to make gate
receipts cover recurrent costs of productions, including salaries for part-time
professionals. Actors and directors who work in the theatre would supplement
their incomes from radio, television and film jobs. If we give people a drama and
theatre that they recognize as part of their heritage, popular support will
materialize. The Jamaican pantomime proves this. So does the Trinidad calypso
Secondly, we have seen the beginnings of indigenous drama in a few short
plays in Trinidad, but only one of these was actually performed. Since the other
two were deliberate attacks on the colonial system it was no doubt considered
prudent to leave them unstaged. Conditions are not so different today in
Caribbean politics. The territories are too small and governments too sensitive
for the dramatist to risk offending our rulers if he wishes to work without
hindrance in the major task of creating a national drama. Along with the
problems of writing, staging, and finding his true audience, the playwright has to
be a political strategist for the drama, being a public art, can be used for
propagandist ends. Our author must avoid vassalage to those temporarily in
power without ostracizing himself, and at the same time he must seek all means
to protect his vision and integrity.
Thirdly, although in content the drama is beginning to show some relevance
to local life, no question was raised whether the inherited form of drama and
conditions of physical performance are appropriate to the local scene. Drama
and theatre are accepted as imported European institutions and therefore proper
for benighted colonials. From here on local dramatists and theatre artists will
model their work on these imported materials instead of looking about them for
indigenous theatre forms. It is of course much too soon for this kind of
awareness. People emerging from imperialist rule encounter three stages in their
journey towards national identity. First comes political freedom; next, economic
control; finally, cultural liberation. The West Indies may still be at stage two.
In 1897 Trinidad celebrated its centenary of British rule. It had previously
been a Spanish possession. The occasion produced the first West Indian historical
drama known to us. Written by Lewis Osborn Inniss, a long-time resident, the
play is called Carmelita, the Belle of San Jose. It is a drama in four acts set in
Trinidad at the time of the English conquest, and was staged both in
Port-of-Spain and San Fernando. Framed as a love story between a
Spanish-Indian girl named Carmelita (symbolic of the island no doubt) and a
young English fortune-seeker, Frank Norton, the play is sentimental and exotic,
two fashionable characteristics of English drama in the early part of the
nineteenth century. The opening scene is a plaza at San Jose (St. Joseph, the old
capital) with Spanish peasants dancing a fandango to the accompaniment of
bandols and shack-shacks. A good beginning. Norton is an interested spectator,
especially when he spots Carmelita in the crowd. He soliloquizes:
What a lovely girl! Heavens! She seems a houri from the Paradise of
Mahomet. She is surely my fate! I must try and find out who she is,
for I feel that Cupid has shot an arrow from her lovely black eyes
straight into my heart and my time has come. Those Spanish Indian
girls are the most fascinating creatures in the world. But what will
my old man say (with his stiff English notions) to my marrying a
foreigner and a Catholic. He has sent me out here to make my
fortune and not to fall in love with girls, but how can a poor fellow
withstand the bewitching glances of those creole girls.
There is more of the same stuff before the playwright introduces his theme of
British conquest. Norton ends his reverie thus: "This is really a fine country to
live in. What a pity it does not belong to His Majesty King George." Act II
presents the Indian cacique or chief, Oronoko, who promises to aid the British
admirals because the cruel Spanish alcalde has stolen his lands and massacred his
people. In the end the English take Trinidad, Norton gets his girl (she turns out
to be not a hated Spaniard but Oronoko's own daughter), and Oronoko recovers
his lands from the grateful and beneficent English conquerors. His people,
however, are not simultaneously resuscitated.
Apart from the distortion of history allowable in a work of the imagination,
apart from the sentimentality forgivable in Victorian romance, the play is
remarkable for its exclusion of the major population group in the colony at the
time of the capitulation, namely, the blacks. By 1797, the year of British
conquest, the Spaniards had in fact decimated the aboriginal Indians, but the
island had begun to flourish economically under French immigrant planters and
African slaves. The population statistics for this year were: 1,100 Indians, 2,400
white, 5,000 coloureds and 10,000 blacks. This play, celebrating a hundred years
of British rule, ignored the existence of a racial group representing 80 per cent of
the population. Hardly an exercise in race relations!
Other locally-written plays presented in Trinidad at this time were The Violet
of Icacos (1897), author and text unknown, and another play by Inniss the
following year called Mura, the Cacique's Daughter. The Icacos play was set in a
seaside village and contained African labourers in the cast, played no doubt by
whites in black-face. The second play by Inniss was produced for the Discovery
Day celebrations and treated once more the noble savage betrayed and enslaved
by the Spanish invaders. In 1903 Dr. George Masson, a coloured professional,
wrote and produced a love-triangle farce, The Social Barnacle, set in an artist's
studio, presumably in London. This is a mere trifle undeserving of further
attention. It simply illustrates continuing amateur theatre activity and the
beginnings of native writers.
Of the Trinidad plays produced at the turn of the century, Inniss is the
leading author. He wrote at a time when the realistic social dramas of Robertson,
Ibsen and Shaw were making an impact on the European theatre, but his model
is an earlier style of playwriting that romanticizes events and uses a hyperbolic
literary style of dialogue. Despite their noble sentiments, all these plays may
have been written by any mediocre English-speaking author who had never
In 1911 Bernard Shaw visited Jamaica. In a press interview he told Jamaicans
in his usual caustic manner what was wrong with them:
What is wrong here is that you produce a sort of man who is only a
colonial If a Jamaican wishes his son to be a fully civilized man
of the world in the best sense to belong to a great intellectual and
artistic culture he has to send him to Europe. Now that's not a
necessary state of things. On the contrary, it ought to be far easier to
build up a Jamaican culture.
Shaw named three things that would strengthen Jamaican culture: a symphony
orchestra, a theatre, and good architecture coupled with city planning. This is
what he says about the theatre:
The next thing you want is a theatre, with all the ordinary travelling
companies from England and America sternly kept out of it; for
unless you do your own acting and write your own plays, you
theatre will be no use; it will, in fact, vulgarise and degrade you
All you want is a band of convinced enthusiasts and an endowment
of a few thousand pounds to do that here. And when you have done
it and provided your Beethoven orchestra as well, your Kingston
man need be no longer a colonial. People will begin to send their
sons from England to old Jamaica to get culture.
The trouble with Shaw is that few people ever took him seriously. Decades
after his visit the main theatrical event in the West Indies was still provided by
touring professional troupes like the Glossop-Harris company playing
Shakespeare, and the Klark-Urban company with a modern repertoire of English
comedies and thrillers. Performances were slick and competent and, especially
for Shakespeare, a good following was assured from the upper middle class who
had done the bard (to death probably) in high school.
In the decade following the first world war, the major West Indian drama is
San Gloria, a long historical play by Tom Redcam. Redcam (pen-name for
Thomas Henry McDermot) is a wellknown Jamaican journalist and poet who in
1933 was posthumously created Poet Laureate of Jamaica. His play, written in
prose and verse, treats of certain episodes in the third voyage of Columbus when
a storm drove the admiral's ships aground on the reefs of St. Ann's Bay (called
by Columbus, Santa Gloria, hence the play's title).
Two main problems confront the marooned admiral. He has to maintain good
relations with the native Indians so as to obtain food from them, and he has to
get word of their plight back to his base camp in Hispaniola. Compounding these
problems is a threatened mutiny by the crew led by the brothers, Porras. The
play opens immediately after the storm and we find Columbus offering a prayer
for deliverance. In fact he does little in the play besides pray and soliloquise and
we begin to wonder if this is the intrepid discoverer of whom we have read so
Redcam explains his hero's extraordinary passivity. At the time of the
shipwreck, says his introduction to the play, circumstances had materially
modified the sum total of Columbus's personality "He appears here more as the
man of thought and reflection than the man of action His courage has not
left him, but it has something of depression" Hamlet too was a man of thought
who suffered fits of depression but there the similarity ends. Redcam's play
lacks action; only one character engages our interest and he is the villain,
Francisco Porras. He urges the sailors to rebel, for what reasons we are not told,
and he arranges for one of the men, suitably drunkened, to make an attempt on
the captain's life. The plot is foiled.
Redcam is a writer by profession and one expects to find a quality in the
writing if none exists in the plotting and characterization of his play. One is
disappointed. Whether Redcam was consciously striving for an archaic style to
give a sense of period or whether he was simply a poor playwright we cannot
tell, but there is little to recommend this play which and this is indicative -
has not, to my knowledge, ever been produced on stage. His style is a pastiche of
Shakespeare and the Bible, specifically the epistolary writings of St. Paul. Here
are a couple of short extracts. Captain Mendez addresses the crew:
Let every man with set ceremony and devotion thank God aloud, as,
silently and in his heart, the Admiral is most certain you have each
already done. Thank Him one, twice, thrice. This His Highness doth
most strictly enjoin. Next, know we tarry on this island.
And somewhat later Mendez cautions the men to be friendly to the Indians:
Wherefore now rouse not their ferocity. It slumbers like a live coal in
ashes. Go not blowing their anger into flame. Stick not your fingers
on their thorns, etc.
Redcam's best verse is simple and direct. But he is partial to the extended
metaphor (there is an imitation of the Degree speech from Troilus and Cressida
which is pure parody) and the result is often disastrous.
Another Jamaican author of this period is A. MacGregor James who
published four stories and a play in 1921. The play, A Soul's Sacrifice, is a
domestic melodrama in one act set in seventeenth century Jamaica some years
after the British conquest. It was produced at the Ward Theatre, Kingston, in
1926. Pedro Calzar is a scheming and unscrupulous Spaniard, clearly a
stereotype creation by British settlers after dispossessing the Spaniards who in
their time had dispossessed the Indians. Calzar hates the English and schemes to
marry a planter's daughter to secure Spanish treasure that is buried on the
planter's estate. His plot is, of course, foiled and all turns out well for the
English who retain both the sovereignty of the island and the treasure.
The play is interesting because of the range of characters employed. Apart
from the feuding English and Spanish settlers, there are Fidelle, a black
housemaid, and Choto, a wicked Maroon myalman or obeahman from whom
Pedro gets a deadly poison. Both of these characters speak a dialect. The
sacrifice implied by the title was made by Pedro's daughter, Lolita, who
surrendered her love for a young lieutenant in favour of her English friend, Miss
While Redcam was writing his quasi-literary chronicle on Columbus and
James his conventional melodrama about hidden Spanish gold, theatrical
stirring were felt among the Jamaican populace that augured well for the future
of a national theatre. Reinforcing the traditional but seasonal John Canoe
performances, touring Red Indian plays began in the first decades of this century
to draw large audiences throughout Jamaica. The plays were modelled on the old
Medicine Shows popular in the United States a generation or two earlier;
performances were out of doors and presented romanticised episodes in the life
of American Indians; they included much pantomime, dancing, singing,
legerdemain, war-making and rhetorical speechifying.
At another level historical pageants mounted under church auspices were
making a profound impact on theatre-goers. These spectacles were elaborately
presented in the open air or on the stage of the Ward Theatre and involved
hundreds of Jamaican artistes of varied talents. Sunday morning concerts were
also becoming fashionable at the Ward Theatre and in cinema houses across the
country. At these entertainments Jamaican performers revelled before
enthusiastic audiences in their growing mastery of stage technique and began to
write simple dramatic sketches to display their acting skills to greater advantage.
Finally, the United Negro Improvement Association, under that indefatigable
visionary, Marcus Garvey, established an open-air stage at Edelweis Park in
Kingston that became over a short period of years the mecca for black theatrical
talent and workingclass audiences in the island.
We come now to the 1930's and 40's, a period that marked the awakening of
West Indian national consciousness. Workingclass uprisings for better conditions
were matched on the literary front by the appearance of several literary
magazines: The Beacon in Trinidad in 1931, the still published Bim in Barbados
in 1942, Focus in Jamaica the following year, and finally Kyk-over-al in Guyana
in 1945. These periodicals offered an outlet for creative writers with aroused
national sentiments, but the editors seldom published plays as if recognizing
instinctively that the rightful place for drama is in the theatre. I said in beginning
my talk that drama is different from other literary forms, that the playwright is
part of a creative team that includes a theatre company and an audience. To set
about the business of writing national drama a dramatist must know his
collaborators. He must be assured of a play-producing company with whom he
can work and he must have in mind an audience for whom he is writing.
The pre-abolition West Indian theatre knew its audience: "the very thin upper
crust. Following emancipation, the visiting professionals and the local
"gentleman amateurs" also knew their audience: still the upper class and upper
middle-class, i.e. the cultivated citizenry. The masses, the black and Asiatic
masses, do not belong. They are the dispossessed. Up to the 1930's no serious
West Indian drama had recognized their existence other than as menial
functionaries or comic stereotypes. It seemed they had no story worth telling, or
that they did not belong in the theatre which, after all, was a European product
imported for their masters.
The West Indian who first nailed one lie implicit in this attitude was C.L.R.
James, the celebrated historian, novelist, journalist, lecturer and political activist
of Trinidad. Alas! He was an exile in London and his play was performed there.
It has not, I think, been produced in the West Indies. It was based on the
successful revolt of black slaves in Haiti in 1801 against Buonaparte's armies led
by his brother-in-law, General LeClerc. It is the most epic of West Indian stories
and, since James' play, there have been at least three other dramas, a novel, and
a film on the subject. James had done extensive research into the period and had
published his book, The Black Jacobins. He wrote his play around the leading
figure of the revolution and titled it in his honour: Toussaint L'Ouverture. The
play was produced for a special showing by the Stage Society in London in 1936
at the Westminster Theatre. It was directed by Peter Godfrey and had an
impressive cast of blacks: Paul Robeson played Toussaint, Robert Adams of
British Guiana was Dessalines, John Ahuma was Christophe, and the Nigerian
Orlando Martins, who later made a name in films, was Boukman. The following
excerpt from Ivor Brown's review in The Observer sums up reactions to the
Mr. James' play is a careful prose record of Toussaint's tremendous
struggle against the remorseless toughness of the European exploiters
and the weakness and flightiness of his own hard-driven people. The
pulse of righteous indignation beats strongly, and sometimes the
narrative needs trimming and tightening. The play, however,
manages to be continuously interesting because Toussaint himself is
interesting. Probably poetry would better have honoured the great
and magnanimous figure of ebony which Mr. Paul Robeson
presented like some tremendous tree defying hurricanes and finally
overwhelmed by the small, mean blade of French dishonesty.
James had brought the dispossessed on the stage but he had not brought them
into the theatre as audience. Where in 1936 was the West Indian company of
actors to stage this play? Although no West Indian production is known, a
revised version of the play under the title, The Black Jacobins, was directed by
Trinidadian Dexter Lyndersay in Nigeria in 1967 while bitter civil war still
ravaged one part of that nation. The spectacle of black leaders struggling for
their country's freedom from foreign control and then plunging it into further
bloodshed through their lust for power provided a grim parallel to the unhappy
situation in Nigeria. The moral of James's play was not lost on its Nigerian
audiences and the production was enthusiastically received.
Where James was unable, for obvious reasons, to bring the West Indian masses
into the theatre, Jamaican playwrights of the period had limited success. Archie
Lindo, playwright and journalist, recalls the situation at this time in the
let us admit it, there was a sort of shade, or 'class' bar in theatre in
those days, but this was soon to be broken down with the
dramatization by Ernest Cupidon and his Group (Vere Johns
included) of DeLisser's Jane and Susan Proudleigh. From there on
there was no bar, and the stage was open to all.
H.G. DeLisser's stories have always been popular in Jamaica and the decision to
adapt them for the stage by Cupidon, the most famous native comedian, would
clearly result in a lucrative combination of talents. There were three productions
in all ante-dating James's L'Ouverture play. Susan Proudleigh was first produced
at the Ward Theatre in December, 1930, and revived on numerous occasions.
The Jamaican Bandits, a three-act comedy, was produced in 1931, and Jane's
Career in 1933. However, neither in content nor intention were these tales more
than light entertainment, they were out of step with the urgency of the times
that demanded more meaningful drama. Other Jamaican authors responded to
In 1938 Una Marson produced Pocomania, a play showing the impact of a
Jamaican religious cult on a staid middle-class family. Frank Hill in Upheaval
(1939), dealt with the labour riots of the previous year. Roger Mais' Hurricane
(1943), one of the earlier productions of the Little Theatre Movement, was a
social drama in a plantation setting.
Perhaps the most ambitious production of this period in the Jamaican theatre
was Esther Chapman's hortatory epic, The West Indian (1936), in which the
author aimed, in her own words, "to present a picture of the West Indian,
showing his evolution, physical and mental, and pointing a finger to his future."
The format for the play consisted of blank verse monologues delivered by a
mystical Voice (played by Burnett Webster, the co-director) in a prologue and
epilogue. His commentary was illustrated by interpolations from a crowd of
slaves, peasants, and others, and further developed by scenes of West Indian life
through the ages. The cast numbered seventy players. There were two Haitian
dancers and music was specially composed for the production by Lieutenant
Frank Bradley, Bandmaster of the Jamaica Military Band.
No one would question the sincerity of purpose with which Mrs. Chapman,
an English journalist, embarked on writing and producing this play. In the
1930's liberal intellectuals identified themselves with the struggle for social
justice and there were people in Jamaica who felt that The West Indian was
revolutionary and should be withdrawn. Yet today, judging only from a few
printed excerpts of the play, the words ring hollow, the tone sounds patronising.
Listen to the verses of one song, a dirge, and recall that the play is addressed to
the coloured Jamaican intelligentsia:
Woe, woe, woe, woe!
Our lot is sorrow,
We breathe but live not,
We move but walk not,
We cry but there is none to hear,
We are the lost.
We weep for our forests,
We sigh for our jungles,
They are empty of our presence,
We are the living dead.
And as a solution to the disabilities suffered for centuries by the West Indian
people we have only this:
Oh, West Indian!
Rise to your noble opportunity,
Suffer no shame where you are innocent,
Nor pride where cause of arrogance if none.
For you are a man, and man is born of God.
Mrs. Chapman's play, like the plays of Jamaicans Una Marson, Frank Hill, and
Roger Mais, fitted the mood of the time and must have had some impact on
complacent middle-class audiences. I speak here from report. Diligent inquiry
has failed to produce any of these scripts and further research is necessary on
this significant period in West Indian drama. It was a period when Elsie Benjamin
founded her People's Theatre. A practice inherited from early colonial times was
to solicit the patronage of the English governor in the production of a play,
especially when producers wished to ensure a respectable clientele (both
meanings are appropriate here). The implied approval of the King's
representative transformed a performance into a social occasion and reassured
playgoers that there would be nothing allowed on stage that might offend their
corporate sensibilities. Miss Benjamin changed all that. When her People's
Theatre announced its premiere production of W.G. Ogilvie's One Soja Man
(1945), in place of the governor's imprimature on the programme there appeared
the following note "under the kind patronage of the ordinary people of
Jamaica. It pains me to report that the ordinary people could not have
supported Miss Benjamin's campaign for her company folded following its
opening production and was never heard from thereafter.
The most successful playwright of this era is Archie Lindo and we are
fortunate to have copies of his plays. He wrote and produced four dramas: two
original works and two dramatizations from Jamaican novels. The task of
adapting a novel to the stage has pitfalls for the inexperienced dramatist and Mr.
Lindo does not avoid all of them. The novels he adapted were The White Witch
of Rosehall (1945) by H.G. Delisser and The Maroon (1947) by Captain Mayne
Reid. The former play, which is the more interesting, has five different settings
that change frequently. Lindo once explained that when his plays were
presented at the Ward Theatre, Kingston, they ran well into the early hours of
the morning because of the time it took to change the sets. The audience,
however, didn't mind waiting. They were seeing thumping good melodrama
about their country's colourful past and loving every minute. A good example of
Lindo's theatre is the exorcism scene in The White Witch. Annie Palmer,
notorious mistress of Rosehall Estate, has bewitched a Negro girl, Millicent.
Takoo, the obeahman, summons his followers to a ceremony of purification.
Drums beat, the large crowd of blacks sways and chants. A fire burns. Beside
Takoo stands a young boy with a kid goat. (In production, a dove was
substituted for the goat.) Lindo's stage directions follow:
Takoo plunges his right hand into the fold of his robe and withdraws
it. He holds his left hand over Millicent's head. He sprinkles her with
some powder. He does this twice. Again his voice thunders forth in
chant. He signals and the singing ceases. He alone sings. Then there is
silence. A tense breathless silence.
Takoo slowly takes the dove from the boy. He grasps it by the head,
holding it over Millicent who now kneels, her exposed back clearly
shown. Takoo draws a long shining knife and waves it in a sort of
ritual. Then, swiftly, he thrusts it into the dove's throat. The blood
spurts in a stream on Millicent and a hoarse cry bursts from the
Takoo laves Millicent with the blood. Fierce, delirious howls and
shouts ejaculations of frenzy come from the crowd. A wild medley
of cries. Takoo shouts at the top of his voice.
Takoo: 0 evil spirit, leave the body of this girl forever. Go back to
hell from where you come Rise up, daughter, you are free!
Suddenly a new cry rises from the crowd. In an agony and spasm of
fear, men and women spring upright and point in one direction. With
outstretched arms they scream:
Crowd: Christ! De Rolling Calf! De Rolling Calf!
Off-stage there is a clanking of chains and a sound of weird snorting.
There is a red glow and suddenly flashed on the stage by lighting
effect is the shadowy figure of a Rolling Calf.
In Jamaican folklore, the Rolling Calf is a devil figure that appears in the shape
of a gigantic bull. To be attacked by it means certain death. Annie had assumed
this shape to manifest her evil powers and confound her enemies.
Earlier I said that the word is not always the principal element in drama. This
scene is a clear instance of dramatic action that does not rely on dialogue for its
effect. The play broke attendance records for a straight drama at the Ward
Theatre having over twenty performances. It's popularity was due not only to
melodrama but also to the fact that, like James's L'Ouverture play, it showed
black slaves taking hold of their destiny and striking a fatal blow for freedom
and justice. In the concluding scene Takoo and a group of slaves capture Annie.
She pleads for her life. Her white book-keeper, who knows her evildoings,
threatens the slaves with hanging if they should harm her. Takoo replies in his
proud and authoritative dialect:
Who deserve hanging more, she or me? She kill Millicent. I pass
sentence on her tonight over the grave of me dead grand-daughter. I
sentence her to dead. You talk about me hang, Mr. Burbridge. It is
white man who got to look out for themself now for we is free
tonight. Every slave in Jamaica is free and we is tekking to the
mountains to fight. I expec to die one day but me spirit will live
forever. An before I die this damn woman mus dead no power
from heaven or hell can save her.
Lindo, and Cupidon before him, are unique in dramatizing West Indian novels.
With the quantity and variety of prose literature now available, playwrights
might with profit turn to their bookshelves for material well suited to the West
In an analysis of themes in West Indian short stories, Andrew Pearse
commented some years ago on the "great cleavage" that exists between
middle-class West Indians who have accepted the civilization of the European
colonizers, and the West Indian populace who have created their own forms,
customs and institutions to regulate their social life. He suggested that the road
to nationhood lies in the integration of these two groups. In a play like The
White Witch, Lindo, a middle-class dramatist tries to bridge the gap by giving
dignity and authority to the cult leader. But a subtle danger lurks in attempting
to present folk customs in the theatre. Out of context they tend to appear comic
or sensational to the cultivated audience and, most often, as something debased.
A writer must therefore be wary of exploiting the folkways to cater to the
superior attitudes of his own class.
In his original play Under the Skin (1943), Lindo is guilty of this charge.
Later dramatists also come under like suspicion but the example from Lindo is
so clear, in a writer of plays for the people, that it deserves to be quoted. His
drama is about racial intolerance. One of the characters in the play is, in the
words of the author, "a beautiful, dark girl. She has poise. She is cultured and
has a stately bearing. She is tall, but very feminine." In other words, she is an
ideal representative of the author's own social group, namely, the cultured
coloureds. Now listen to this excerpt in which a rich planter and his wife are
RUBY: Why have you got to be so coarse? You are just like the
black people with whom you associate all day.
JAMES: Wait a minute. What did you say? Black people?
RUBY: I said black people.
JAMES: I heard you the first time but what's wrong with black
people? You use the word as though a black person was
something inferior and worthless.
RUBY: And so they are. You know that yourself my dear.
JAMES: I know nothing of the sort. I know that my grandmother
was black and I also know that your great grandmother was
RUBY: (shocked) James! Why speak about it? That is so far back
that you and I know nothing about it. You forget that your
father was a Scotsman and mine was Irish. You forget that!
JAMES: I don't forget it, but I don't see why I should not feel
proud of all my relatives; after all their blood runs in my veins-
RUBY: And much good the black blood does either you or me.
Sometimes I believe that is why you are so vulgar and coarse.
JAMES: Don't talk stupidness. My coarseness, as you call it,
comes from my father for he was a born drinker and used to run
around the countryside getting innumerable illegitimate children.
At the time this play was staged, in 1943, that passage must have seemed
pretty revolutionary dialogue: the coloured man who can pass for white standing
up and saying he is proud of his African ancestry. Such action was, I suppose, a
necessary first step. The speaker, be it noted, does not declare his cultural
affinity with an African past or with the indigenous culture derived from an
African heritage. When Lindo depicts a member of the black working-class
whose roots are clearly African, the portraiture is strangely at odds with our
expectations. Act II opens with Susan, the cook. She is described simply as
"buxom and black." No fine graces for her. She answers the telephone:
"Hello! Oh hell, dis ting foofool. No sah, me not calling yu fool. Yes
sah. Oh, Missa Clinton, den why yu didn't say so fram fus. You soon
come wright a wi tell him. (Hangs up.) But se ya, white people
something funny, eh? Look pan dis ya ting. Two likkle hole; yu talk
in a one and hear out a de odder an me can nebba memba which is
which. Mos av de time me talk into de place fe put a me ears an
listen outa de one fi talk into
The caricature continues twice as long. No I'm not saying that cooks like Susan
don't exist in Jamaica. But this character is not representative of Jamaican cooks
any more than the beautiful dark girl with poise and stately bearing is
representative of the Jamaican middle-class. But one is idealised while the other
is lampooned, and the gap between the two social groups is widened.
At the other end of the Caribbean, Trinidad in the 1930's had two
playwrights, both schoolmasters, whose work should be briefly noted. Arthur
Roberts was headmaster of the Nelson Street R.C. Boys' School and over a
period of years he wrote and staged a batch of plays, mostly on subjects of
topical interest. Using schoolboy actors with boys taking female roles, Roberts
presented his little farces and melodramas at the old Empire Cinema in
Port-of-Spain to overflow audiences of children, admiring parents and friends. It
was the equivalent of calypso theatre without song or smut. Some of his titles
will suffice to indicate the subject matter and treatment of his plays:
Divorce (at the time of hotly contested legislation)
That Hospital (when the city hospital administration
was in disrepute)
Romance Without Sanitation (an anti-tuberculosis play)
When Lovers Meet
The cinema auditorium was large and the voices were small. There was no
attempt to create a believable scenic environment. A few chairs and tables
quickly re-arranged for the swift-moving scenes, the actors keeping well
downstage and speaking their loudest, minimal blocking and movement, this was
Roberts's ingenuous theatre, yet with enough youthful exuberance to charm the
audience. Roberts used local dialect and stock characters like the ignorant maid,
the young couple in love, the innocent in danger, but always he taught a moral,
always virtue triumphed over vice. One of his pupils gave me this memorial to his
He captured the mirthful soul of the Creole duplicity, treachery,
nonchalant outlook on life but he rigorously excluded anything
bawdy or depraved. At best he may be described as a humorous
puritan, but first and foremost a playwright of the people.
DeWilton Rogers, one of my own schoolmasters, is the other Trinidad
playwright of the late thirties. His was a more serious talent than Roberts's. In
plays like Blue Blood and Black (1936), Trikidad (1937), and Silk Cotton Grove
(1942), the last dealing with the uprooting of residents to make way for United
States bases, Rogers attempted to dramatise vital issues that afflicted the lives of
workingclass people in Trinidad. He is a courageous man of high principle who
has never been afraid to speak out against any form of discrimination,
corruption, or abuse of the poor. His plays deserve further study; regrettably all
his own manuscripts and a fine personal library were lost when his house was
destroyed by fire several years ago. Only a fragment of one play has, so far,
rewarded my inquiries.
I have stressed the playwright's need for a theatre company. For many years
the only companies of performance in the West Indies were run either by
expatriates or nativeborn residents who were not interested in encouraging an
indigenous drama. They were, of course, all amateur players and no one would
question their right to spend their leisure time however they chose. I think of
the long established Trinidad Dramatic Club, inaugurated in 1894 and still active
in recent times. The Club seems to be in decline at present and may even have
disbanded. As the oldest continuously active theatre company in the region this
group has many notable productions to its credit, including a delightful series of
open-air Shakespeare performances in the gardens of St. Ann's, but if my records
are correct the T.D.C. has never produced a West Indian play.
A similar policy obtained with the Southern Amateur Dramatic Society
founded in 1938, the St. Augustine Club and the Phoenix Players in Trinidad;
the Rangemoor Dramatic Club (1929-1953) and the Theatre Arts Club in
Jamaica; the Demerara Dramatic Club and Three Arts in Guyana; the
Bridgetown Players (founded in 1942) and the Green Room Theatre Club in
Barbados. The list is not exhaustive. All but one of these theatre groups have
disappeared as their existence became anachronistic with the emergence of
nationalist sentiment in the West Indies. The Green Room Theatre Club in
Barbados, that stronghold of upper-crust white exclusivity, suddenly in 1966
found a black actress to play Antigone and subsequently has produced two short
West Indian plays. The masses are not yet in the serious theatre but, at least, the
theatre has become aware of their existence throughout the Caribbean and is
making overtures to lure them in.
When in the past West Indian plays were staged the author usually
gathered a group of interested friends around him and, if he didn't direct the
play himself, he chose one of them for this office. The group took a name,
produced the play, and then dispersed until perhaps the author had a new play
ready for production. Under this system there is little opportunity to build an
ensemble company, to develop techniques, explore new staging methods, or
permit continuous creative interaction between writer, director, and performer.
Exceptions to the practice described above could be found in the popular
comedy teams of "Abe and Cupes" (Cupidon again) and "Bim and Bam" in
Jamaica, Sam Chase and Jack Melo in Guyana. These comedians gathered around
them a few other players and by frequent performances over many years they
developed a style of improvised theatre in the best tradition of professional
touring players. The calypso drama in Trinidad is likewise an expression of truly
indigenous theatre that deserves close examination.
The absence of established theatre companies willing to produce West Indian
plays was remedied in the decade of the 1940's. Several groups emerged whose
members were to have a profound influence on the future of drama in the
region. In Jamaica the Little Theatre Movement was inaugurated in 1941 and the
Caribbean Thespians in 1946. The White Hall Players started in Trinidad in
1946, the Georgetown Dramatic Group in Guyana around 1948, and in 1950 the
St. Lucia Arts Guild was formerly established, although members of this
group-to-be had begun play production activities some years previously.
The L.T.M. has meant a great deal to the Jamaican theatre. It has, for
instance, with unswerving tenacity struggled for years to build a playhouse of its
own. It has organized school drama festivals and assisted younger groups whose
members appear in L.T.M. productions. It has staged a number of West Indian
plays, perhaps not enough to justify its years of existence as the most prestigious
theatre organization in Jamaica. After twenty-nine years of operation the L.T.M.
has produced no significant Jamaican playwright. It has, however, given the
country the Jamaican pantomime.
The L.T.M. is not a theatre company. It is a theatre producing committee led
by people who are theatrically knowledgeable and fiercely committed to holding
a pre-eminent place in Jamaican theatre. I have always felt that the main failing
of this otherwise admirable band of workers is the absence of an ensemble
company of amateurs or semi-professionals under a fine director and with scripts
provided by native playwrights such as William Ogilvie, Barry Reckord, Louise
Bennett, Samuel Hillary, Trevor Rhone, Sylvia Wynter, and others. Think of the
possibilities: skilled playwrights with a company, directors, and a theatre at their
disposal, and behind them the indefatigable L.T.M. management committee of
proven ability to organize and promote each production. On one occasion I
offered such an acting ensemble to the L.T.M. management but was turned
To some extent this coalescence of talent occurs annually with the
pantomime, but unless things have greatly changed in recent times, and despite
its being the biggest theatrical event of the year, the Jamaican pantomime lives
precariously. As a theatre presentation combining folk tale folk songs, dancing,
music, drama, and improvisation, merged with pertinent political and social
satire, the pantomime remains one of the most promising forms of Jamaican
theatre. But one feels it has become sated with success. The run of performances
lengthens, the audience grows by the thousands, but the form atrophies. Fresh
energy, experimentation, dissection and discussion are needed in an atmosphere
not of cavil but of creativity. Playwrights must work with choreographers and
musicians months ahead of rehearsal to realise a concept. The director should be
a part of these discussions. The Jamaican pantomime developed from the
imported English model almost by accident when in 1949 Louise Bennett and
Noel Vaz combined to produce Bluebeard and Brer Anancy. The production has
been an annual miracle ever since.
The Whitehall Players, later merged with the New Company into the
Company of Players, is distinguished as much for its theatrical accomplishments
as for the number of outstanding theatre artists it nurtured. Its record of
productions is impressive, including a significant number of West Indian
premieres. Early the Company adopted a policy to take its productions to the
people. At least twice a year the Players performed at hospitals and other public
institutions, and went on the road playing in small towns and villages, often
open-air, before country folk.
No less significant are the individual achievements of its members. Errol John
became a professional actor of stage and screen, and a prizewinning playwright.
Percy Borde is a dancer and choreographer in New York. Horace James and Leo
Carrera (then Leo Bennett) work as actors in Europe. Jean Sue Wing is Drama
Officer for the Trinidad Government. Freddie Kissoon won a scholarship for study
abroad and returned to coach drama in schools; he has his own company and has
written a dozen or more plays, two filmscripts, and a popular radio serial. Most
of his plays are folk dramas in the tradition of Arthur Roberts, couched in
dialect, racy, humorous or pathetic, topical and popular, written with a sound
knowledge of the stage and of his audience. The list of members continues: Cecil
Gray, as a University lecturer, continues to demonstrate a superior acting talent
and an awareness of theatre in his critical writings on West Indian drama. Sydney
Hill became government Film Officer and made good films on the carnival and
steel band. Errol Jones remains the leading actor in Trinidad and Eunice Bruno
still holds her own as the most talented actress. The indispensable George
Williams continues to serve the country as expert theatre technician and lighting
designer. I am proud to count myself among the founders of this amazing
company. It is sad to report that after nearly twenty-five years of activity the
Company of Players has encountered lean times and is now dormant.
I spoke of the playwright's need for a company and now I will reverse the
process and say that, in countries emerging from colonialism, theatre companies
need playwrights. The Whitehall Players began with standard English fare which
the troupe felt was within its capabilities. Acting skills were exceptional. From
the first we embarked on regular training for all members in speech, movement,
and acting techniques. But no amount of craft could hide the fact that most of
the plays were inappropriate if not incongruous for this young team. Critics
called for native plays; no playwrights came forward. Undaunted the group
decided to write their own. Thus did Errol John and Errol Hill, actors and
directors both, become playwrights as well. Errol John absolved himself of his
rashness by winning the London Observer playwriting competition over two
thousand entries with the highly praised Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (1957). The
play has reached an international audience with productions in England,
America, Australia, Surinam, Guyana and Hungary. The other Errol, although
the author of what must be the most frequently produced play in the West
Indies, a one-actor called The Ping Pong (1950), still carries the burden of his
impulsive act of twenty-odd years ago.
Besides these two writers, the Trinidad company introduced another native
dramatic talent in the person of Douglas (Jack) Archibald. An engineer by
profession, Jack comes of a family of authors and has been writing plays for
years without hope of seeing them on stage. One brother, Charles, is a well
known journalist. Another, William, is the author of Carib Song (produced
1945), a musical tragedy and the first play by a West Indian to be staged on
Broadway. I believe Elsie Benjamin Barsoe of Jamaica was a member of the cast
which included the Katherine Dunham dance company. The production was
short-lived. William Archibald also wrote a more successful play, The Innocents
(1952), adapted from the Henry James' story, Turn of the Screw. It played in
New York and London to respectable houses and flattering reviews.
Jack Archibald has written at least nine plays (seven of them full-length) of
which four were produced by the Trinidad Company. Best known are Junction
Village (1954), and Bamboo Clump (1954), two slices of village life, an urban
folk comedy called The Rose Slip (1962), and Anne Marie (1957), a domestic
drama set on a French Creole plantation in the last decade of the nineteenth
century. Whether he is depicting relaxed peasant life, urban hustle and bustle, or
the melancholy of a declining aristocracy, Archibald writes with insight, grace,
and understanding. He sees dramatic action in terms of character rather than
plot and, like Chekhov, he has the knack of making apparently incidental actions
significant. This is abundant praise. Jack Archibald is a scrupulous writer,
insisting on every apostrophe in his dialect prose, and this punctiliousness
sometimes works to his detriment in productions. But his talent is
unquestionable and his plays belong in the national repertoire of a Trinidad and
West Indian theatre.
If the Arts Guild of St. Lucia did nothing more than produce two playwrights
in the twin brothers, Derek and Roderick Walcott, its place in the dramatic
history of the West Indies would be assured. Roderick's theatrical expertise is
often overlooked in comparison with his more famous brother. He is a superb
comedian, a play director and, rare among artists, a competent and sympathetic
company manager and organizer. He has kept the Guild together for fifteen of
its most productive years and directed most of its plays. In addition he has
written some thirteen plays of which four are unproduced. Four plays give short,
incisive pictures of urban life among the proletariat: The Harrowing of Benjy
(1956), Shrove Tuesday March (1956), A Flight of Sparrows (1958), and The
Trouble with Albino Joe (1959). Another play, Malfinis, or The Heart of a Child
(1962), is a trial in purgatory based on a St. Lucian legend and set in a forest
clearing. Two longer plays are The Banjo Man (1958) dealing with the traditional
La Rose music and song festival still held in the St. Lucian countryside, and The
Expatriates (1963), an over-written psychological drama exploring relations
between a group of West Indian young men awaiting clearance at an immigrant
labour camp in Curacao, Dutch West Indies.
Roderick Walcott writes in prose. His dialogue captures the rhythms, nuances,
idioms of the St. Lucian vernacular, both English and French Patois. In addition
he is able to incorporate subtle speech differences that give his stage figures an
individuality of their own. He writes for the actor. A 1957 production of his
play, The Harrowing of Benjy, directed by Errol Hill, entered the Jamaica Drama
Festival and took away an unprecedented five awards: most imaginative
production, best West Indian comedy, best principal actor, best supporting
actor, and best supporting actress. The Jamaican Reggie Carter gave a
monumental performance in the lead role of Benjy, The Rasta-man.
In his later plays Roderick has experimented with dramatic form, attempting
to integrate indigenous music, singing, and choral speech, as expressive dramatic
material contributing to an overall mood and plot line. This I am convinced is
one direction that West Indian drama must take if it is faithfully and artistically
to recreate West Indian life, to gain an identity of its own, and to be spiritually
meaningful to West Indian People. My own plays, Man Better Man (1960), and
Dance Bongo (1964), were written specifically to substantiate this belief.
One approaches the work of Derek Walcott with a sense of awe. Poet,
dramatist, essayist, play director and company manager, critic of theatre, art,
dance, and literature, sometime painter, one has the feeling that in these days of
specialised arts no single man should be called upon to carry so many burdens.
Here we are concerned with his work in and for the theatre. It may not be
generally known that Derek Walcott began writing and staging plays as early as
he began to write poetry. The two vocations of poet and dramatist may in fact
have a simultaneous origin. One of his first (if not the first) plays in my files,
entitled Flight and Santuary, is dated 1946, (he was then only sixteen years old)
and was written entirely in verse. Derek will pardon my quoting from a script he
probably wants forgotten, but I do so because the play defines in unambiguous
language the territory which this young writer intends to explore. The Chorus
opens the play with the words:
To tell the tragedy of the soul's sickness,
To show the effortless and inescapable confusion,
I unlock the rusty tongue that has told too often
The slow contagion spreading over the will,
The surrender to paralysis, the refusal to struggle.
To carry out this self-imposed task, the poet-dramatist must, it seems, preserve
his solitude. He must stand apart from society, refuse to join the treadmill of
daily existence. The Chorus describes the play's hero, William Barton, as
A man who could not stand the crowd's pressing, thoughtless rush,
The herd rushing into the oblivious river,
To drown like rats enslaved by the shrill music
Of an unrewarding flute.
Barton seeks solitude in a ruined chapel away from human habitation. His
privacy is invaded by a stranger fleeing plague in the city. Barton orders him out.
"Have you no humanity?" The stranger retorts. "The city is dying out there"
"Dying, yes", Barton shoots back, "on its back now and in visible affliction/ But
it has died on its feet since history began it's none of my business"
Eventually, the stranger attacks Barton with a knife. Barton disarms him and
kills him, saying "I will have my solitude at any price any price / Do
unto others as they would do unto you" Three more men come in. The
youngest is dying of the plague. His death affects Barton's philosophy. "If a boy
like that were my son, would I love the world? Now alone I see/ That there
is no flight in time or place, or to time or place. He decides to go back to the
city to help the people because he would rather die among men: "A
brotherhood of death, if not life"
I have spoken this much about a little known work because in it I find
contemplative leisure, coupled with its opposite, namely, the need to become for
life's meaning. The need to accept death as inevitable, although, there is horror
in the thought of total extinction. The desire for solitude, for contemplative
leisure, coupled with its opposite, namely the need to become involved in the
human struggle, to establish one's brotherhood with other men, but only on
one's terms. The solitude of the poet juxtaposed with the man of action in the
theatre. The role of God, or religion, or the church in man's losing battle with
Most instructive in this early play of Derek Walcott's is its non-West
Indianness. Neither in setting, character, language or story-line is the play
remotely identifiable as West Indian. It belongs to no one country, which is to
say it belongs to all countries and to all men. Whereas most other playwrights
begin with a locale cluttered with images of temporal value, Walcott begins with
a vision of man. It is this vision that gives his plays a dimension lacking in many
playwrights of the region, it is this that makes him not only a major poet but the
major dramatist of the West Indies. For it did not take him long to discover the
source of his vision, the city to which, like his hero, Barton, he must return. In
his first published book, 25 Poems, (1949), there is a duologue between A. and
L. titled "Carnival for Two Voices." A street masquerade is in progress but L.
typically is outside looking on and meditating with A:
See them there, the makers
Of holidays, white and black dancers, kissers, concealers,
Of amazements, imitators, poor tough helpless boys,
Is starting, it goes on, no one has time or inclination
A halt, to sit down and think the world
Is caught in this cycle that it has made, those who stop,
They owe a debt to life, who stand are crushed by wheel
That is the universal vision. Now for the discovery of self:
And the day you suddenly realized that
You were black, and that meant
Quite a few things.
It is only the little things, the love of country,
Crying to God, and the melancholy ecstasy of trying to
forget what was.
That is the harsh awakening.
It is not easy to catalogue the plays of Derek Walcott. He is constantly
rewriting and reworking his scripts. Portions of a completed but abandoned
work reappear in a later play. He admitted in a recent press interview that it
took him ten years to write a play. In my files are several versions of a single
play, sometimes under different titles. If he had lived three hundred and seventy
years ago, think of the scholarship that would be expended today on these
quartos and folios. In the twenty-four years since Flight and Sanctuary, as far as
I can judge, Derek has written some twenty-two plays, many of them full-length,
most in a mixture of prose and verse. In my view his best plays are Henri
Christophe (1950), The Sea at Dauphin (1954), the epic drama, Drums and
Colours (1958), Ti Jean and his Brothers (1958) and Malcauchon (1959). Dream
on Monkey Mountain (1967), remains in my view a tangled, incoherent piece,
despite some fine individual character-drawing and a bold structuring of its parts.
Derek's latest play, In a Fine Castle (1970), I do not know.
One can say much more about Derek Walcott as a playwright but time presses
and we have not reached the end of this survey of Caribbean drama. Like his
brother, Roderick, his recent work also shows experimentation with form but in
Derek's case the consciousness of a literary tradition seems a constraint on his
freedom. I find close correspondences in form between many of his plays and
the works of major European dramatists. There is nothing wrong with this
except that one feels his originality is thereby stifled. Here are a few snap
parallels: Henri Christophe, admittedly an early play, is Elizabethan with strong
doses of Shakespeare; The Sea at Dauphin was inspired by Synge's Riders to the
Sea, Wine of the Country was written after Chekhov, lone was modelled on
Greek tragedy; Malcauchon opens like Rashomon and is similar in spirit; The
Charlatan tried a Brechtian technique, Dream on Monkey Mountain starts with
an Introduction which echoes the short prefatory note to Stringberg's own A
Dream Play. One of Derek's freest and, for me, most original works is Ti Jean
and His Brothers. It is based on a St. Lucian folk tale and despite a somewhat
Aristophanic choral opening, it retains the spontaneity of the story-teller and is a
charming and fresh handling of its materials. Yet its theme is serious. I wish
Derek would trust his own inspiration and be even more adventurous. There is a
large audience he still has to reach.
The Little Theatre Movement, the Company of Players and the St. Lucia Arts
Guild in their different ways began that collaboration between writer and
producing team that is essential for the emergence of a strong national drama.
Along with these theatre groups, indigenous dance companies and folk-singing
choirs were formed in the 1940's: in Trinidad, the Little Carib Company under
Beryl McBurnie and La Petite Musicale under the late Senator Olive Walke; in
Jamaica, the Ivy Baxter Dance Company, now the Jamaican National Dance
Theatre, and the Frats Quintet. I mention these groups here to show that
twenty-five years ago the West Indies began seriously to explore its resources in
indigenous theatrical material in preparation for what one hoped would be the
emergence on a national level of a varied theatrical repertoire of which the whole
area could indeed be proud. The hope remains a promise.
Writers and performers. What of the third component in the national drama
movement: the mass audience? Enter the West Indies University. In February
1953, the College appointed its first extra-mural drama tutor, Errol Hill. With
characteristic frankness (some would call it "naivete" and they might be
correct), believing that all West Indians would rally to the cause, Hill hoisted the
banner of a West Indian national drama and theatre. His methods were so artless
they promoted suspicion as to his motives. He preached that the theatre
belonged to all people not merely privileged groups; that a national drama meant
West Indian plays by West Indian writers about West Indian affairs presented by
West Indians primarily for West Indian audiences; that while the staging of
non-West Indian plays was valuable you could not build a national drama by
producing alien stuff and, in any case, there would always be groups ready to do
such plays. He urged theatre artists to seek inspiration from the indigenous
theatre of the folk, not as curiosities but as the fibre from which a national
drama is fashioned: the carnival and calypso, John Canoe and dead-wake
ceremonies, Shango and Pocomania, Tea Meetings, La Rose and Vieux Croix
festivals, the Hosein and other Indian customs, native music and rhythms, dialect
as a serious medium of expression. Throughout Hill stressed the need for training
and discipline, undertaking a major part of this himself in all parts of the
Caribbean from Honduras to Guyana, working with groups as varied as the
University Players to the Women's Social Welfare group in Guy's Hill, Jamaica;
from the St Lucia Arts Guild to the Charlestown Extra-mural Club in rural
Nevis. Hill challenged West Indian writers to write for the theatre, promising to
produce every stageworthy script that came in his hands.
This was not all new, of course, but it had never before been stated so
passionately, so persuasively. Overall response was gratifying. Small amateur
theatre groups began to feel a new sense of importance and responsibility.
Village theatre began to take itself seriously. Schools began writing their own
plays for the festivals. There were of course those, among them people of
influence, who felt intimidated by these stirring, sincere people for whom the
idea of temporarily forsaking the theatrical tradition of the colonizers was
tantamount to heresy. And there were other sincere theatre people who shared
the vision of a West Indian drama but preferred to work separately. The Reckord
brothers, for instance, Lloyd, a director and lead actor, Barry, a playwright, have
between them produced important pieces like Della (1954), (renamed Flesh to a
Tiger in its 1958 London production), Miss Unusual (1956), and You in Your
Small Corner (1960).
The national theatre movement, however, was for the first time in history
becoming indisputably West Indian. Witness this report from the judges at the
adult drama festival in Jamaica in 1957:
One of the greatest achievements of the Festival has been the
excellent selection of West Indian plays it has discovered,
popularised, or directly stimulated. This has created a truly universal
and cosmopolitan atmosphere in the Festival. Side by side with plays
from England, America and France, have been plays from Trinidad,
Grenada, St. Lucia and Jamaica and we have not suffered by the
This was appropriate. Political federation would come the next year and the
future never seemed brighter. Noel Vaz joined the extra-mural staff and with
Errol Hill pressed for a commissioned epic drama to mark the birth of the new
federal state. Walcott's Drums and Colours was the result, brilliantly directed by
Mr. Vaz in Trinidad at the inauguration of a federated West Indies nation.
The serious theatre in Guyana, too long content to be represented only by
the biblical and quasi-historical dramas of Norman Cameron, suddenly came
alive. Musician and composer Cecile Nobrega, in collaboration with Helen Taitt
and Hugh Sam, produced in 1956 her Starbroek Fantasy, a dramatic musical
combining Guyanese legends and folk life with original music, a symphonic steel
band, a dance ensemble and acting sketches. This augured well but Mrs. Nobrega
has not been heard from again. A year later the Theatre Guild was formed and
opened its attractive little playhouse in 1960. Immediately the Guild became a
significant cultural force in the community. That is the effect a theatre building
can have in the hands of capable and devoted people. The Guild gave the first
Caribbean production of Errol John's Moon on a Rainbow Shawl and of
Jamaican Evan Jones's In a Backward Country. It has also premiered a number of
of Guyanese playwrights, notably Frank Pilgrim's side-splitting farce, Miriamy
(1962), and Sheik Sadeek's melodramatic one act, Porkknockers (1964), besides
a number of radio productions.
In Jamaica one felt the need for a core company of the finest existing talents
to lead the national movement. The Federal Theatre Company came into being
under the guidance of the drama tutor. It produced seven West Indian plays, all
new to Jamaica. including five premieres. To win a mass audience it took plays
into the cinema as curtain-raisers before the featured film attraction. Among its
playwrights were Derek and Roderick Walcott, Jack Archibald, Vidya Naipaul,
and Cicely Waite-Smith'whose contribution to the Jamaican theatre as actress,
playwright, and teacher has not been fully appreciated. Members of the Federal
Theatre Company included some of the finest acting talent ever to grace a stage
in Jamaica: Slade Hopkinson, Archie Hudson Phillips, Jean Brown, Easton Lee,
Lois Kelly, Reggie Carter, and others.
The Federal Theatre Company had considerable potential but it was not to
last long. As if foreshadowing the early breakup of the West Indies political
superstructure, the Company collapsed under external pressure and internal
disunity. At the end of six years of extra-mural drama activity the tally was:
34 West Indian plays produced out of a total of 60 plays that involved
the drama tutor as actor, director, stage manager or playwright (the
count does not include participation in drama festivals);
27 drama workshops held throughout the Caribbean area;
a reference collection of West Indian playscripts numbering close to 150;
the first published collections of West Indian plays and a mimeographed
collection of plays of lesser merit suitable for production by small groups
(these plays have since been published under other editorship);
all of this and one extra-mural tutor on the verge of physical and spiritual
exhaustion. A respite was in order.
The last ten years have seen a realignment of forces with gains in some areas,
losses in others. The Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad foundered over a stalled
building programme, but the Arawak Dance Company has kept interest in native
dance forms at a high level. The Jamaica National Dance Theatre progressed to
lead the dance movement in the region. Much as one admires the achievement of
these companies and others like them, one feels strongly that the too rigid
separation of dance from drama is somewhat artificial in the West Indies.
New drama groups flourished while others dwindled. I think of Trevor
Rhone's Barn Theatre in Jamaica that produced at least two popular successes.
Lloyd Reckord's National Theatre Trust against heavy financial odds persists in
carrying out some of the objectives of the demised Federal Theatre Company.
Annual festival theatre has burgeoned in Jamaica sponsored by a sympathetic
government and conducted by indefatigable workers. In Guyana many young
people have begun to write plays encouraged by annual competitions and a
liberal policy of producing local scripts on the radio. A 1967 bibliography of
Guyanese plays lists over 100 titles, most of the plays having been written in the
last decade. Barbados now has an annual pantomime, entitled Bimshire, that has
taken over the exciting task of winning a mass theatre audience from Mrs. A.L.
Stuart's Revuedeville presentations of the 1950's.
In Trinidad drama exists at all levels from peasant to priest, but it is the
persistent efforts of Walcott's Trinidad Theatre Workshop that demands
attention. Derek has struggled to keep his company together without a proper
playhouse and his recent success with Dream on Monkey Mountain is all the
more admirable. One hopes he has now lost some of the testy impatience and
frustration that have distorted his theatre critiques of other people's work.
Perhaps it is too much to expect that one so actively involved in his own theatre
enterprise can be objective in reviewing the work of others. It remains one of the
serious defects in the West Indies, namely, informed, dispassionate yet
understanding criticism of efforts to create a West Indian drama and theatre.
In 1962 on the occasion of independence celebrations in Trinidad and
Tobago, Slade Hopkinson, poet, actor, teacher, in his capacity of drama critic
for the government party newspaper, wrote as follows:
Until there is a theatre based on a drama rooted in Trinidad, the
theatre and drama in Trinidad will remain essentially artificial,
colonial things, interesting chiefly as symptoms of the psychological
sickness of a fragmented, confused people a people who contain
the possibility of a unique cultural synthesis and inventiveness, but
who prevent the fulfilment of this possibility by not having the
courage or the intelligence to become what they in fact are.
Taking my cue from this statement I wish to close this over-long address by
stating my credo for the establishment of a West Indian national drama:
(1) I believe that drama is a public art, worthy of support from the public
purse; that it belongs primarily on a stage before an audience and only
incidentally in the classroom and library.
(2) 1 believe that as a public art West Indian drama has a duty to knit together
what Mr. Hopkinson called our fragmented, confused society. Vertically it will
bring together our large peasant and working-class elements with the better
educated middle and upper middle-class segments of our population; the poor
and the powerful; laterally, drama can help to integrate our people of different
races and different cultures by making them participants in the forging of a
recognizable West Indian culture. "We begin with a wound", wrote Clifford
Sealy. And until that wound is healed by uniting the disparate elements of our
society, to talk of a West Indian drama is simply academic speculation.
(3) I believe that a powerful means to promote social integration is for drama
to turn to our indigenous culture for its inspiration. West Indian drama must
consciously slough off the accretions of an imported culture which remain alien
to the large majority of West Indian peoples. By indigenous culture I refer to the
folk culture developed by the largest sections of our society who, torn from
their roots, had no place but the West Indies to turn for a cultural heritage and
who therefore built their culture out of the memory of their past and the
experience of present physical and economic slavery.
(4) 1 believe that drama belongs to all the people and that a national drama of
the kind advocated would unleash tremendous creativity from both the trained
theatre artist, who will find a rich mine of folk material on which to draw, and
from the folk theatre practitioner who repeatedly is found to rise to heights of
performance skill when challenged to appear on the formal theatre stage. My
experience in directing national pageants in Trinidad, Jamaica, and Grenada
justifies this belief.
(5) 1 believe that a national drama and theatre of the kind proposed would
draw massive public support and make the national theatre economically viable.
It would take time to achieve this. At the beginning the theatre must go to the
people; it must travel to outlying areas in towns and villages and involve the
masses in its productions by inviting them to perform as part of the programme.
Continuous interaction with the mass culture is indispensable for a national
drama and will prevent the theatre from once more becoming the plaything of a
social or educated coterie.
(6) I believe the national theatre has a duty to protect indigenous art forms
facing corruption or extinction under the bombardment of alien cultural forms
and values as well as a galloping commercialism. The limbo, a Trinidad dance
believed to represent the physical circumstances of slaves during the "Middle
Passage, used to be one of the purest expressions of bodily equilibrium and
muscular control. The performer, with arms and legs spread-eagled, danced
under a horizontal bar which was gradually lowered to within inches of the
ground. Commercialized in night clubs and for audiences abroad, the dance
became, first, the human bridge limbo with the clean line of the bar replaced by
writhing bodies. Next it became the flaming limbo where admiration of human
skill is turned into concern for human safety. Finally, at a recent exhibition in
Madison Square Garden I was treated to the psychedelic limbo where the
dancer's body disappeared altogether and all we saw were some gaudily coloured
frills of costumes phosphorescing under black lights. Such is the corruption our
folk art faces if we do not consciously strive to preserve it in a purer and more
permanent form in the national theatre.
(7) Finally, I believe that intimate knowledge of the folk theatre will help our
artists to devise styles and forms most appropriate for a national drama. For
instance, the old-fashioned proscenium arch stage may not be the type of
playhouse most suited to a West Indian national theatre, yet it is the only kind
available in the West Indies, with the single exception of a thrust stage in
Guyana. I feel a pervasive and predominant rhythm in the life of our people in
the drums, in music, in dance and movement, in vocal sounds including speech;
but too many theatre productions are devoid of this beat. I listen to the speech
of our folk and I find it sturdy and fresh, full of imagery, above all, full of hope.
But I find too many of our dramatists either tied to a traditional literary form of
expression or else easily content with a journalistic vernacular jargon, and the
more intellectual they are the more despairing their message. I see as inseparable
in folk theatre music, dance, song, speech, mime, choral response; but we have
become metropolitan specialists and compartmentalise these integral theatre
modes following alien practice. I see the procession as a basic choreographic
form in all aspects of indigenous culture the calypsonian Lord Kitchener
leading a carnival band over the hallowed grounds of Lord's Cricket Club to
celebrate our 1950 Test Cricket victory; but our audiences sit in the theatre as in
an old classroom waiting to be instructed and chided by their cultured masters. I
see drama primarily for all the people, not merely for the exhibition of the skills
of dramatists and other artists of the theatre. I see drama as a festival of
celebration, not cerebration; as ceremony not science; as acceptance of life, not
as escape from life or rejection of life.
Jose Marti, Cuban patriot and revolutionary, believed in the power of drama
and theatre. He urged Latin American nations at the end of last century to build
their own theatre, breaking away from outmoded European models. His words
have meaning for the West Indies today:
The theatre is copy and outgrowth of a people. A people who would
be new must produce an original theatre It is irritating to see a
new people rich in fecund creative intelligence cling servilely to a
worn and dingy theatre Youth is a period of creation. Not of
adaptation, but of innovation. Mediocrity copies, originality
dares A new people requires a new literature. This exuberant life
should reveal itself in a manner of its own. These new traits call for a
I stand with Marti.
Thank you for your exemplary patience and attention.
Since writing the above, I have researched the cultural activities of Marcus
Garvey's black uplift movement in Jamaica. Credit for first presenting the black
man on stage as a dignified, intelligent human being determined to chart his own
future must go to Garvey and not, as I mistakenly supposed, to C.L.R. James.
Following his imprisonment in the United States an action taken by a nervous
government whose aim was to destroy Garvey's black mass movement by
lopping off its head Garvey was deported to Jamaica in 1927. He immediately
set about regrouping forces for his self-ordained mission of black liberation.
Most of the following year, 1929, he spent travelling in Europe and Canada
expanding his movement and seeking support. By 1929 his United Negro
Improvement Association had established at Edelweis Park at 67 Slipe Road,
Kingston, an open-air auditorium and stage adjoining the building that served as
headquarters for the Association and as publishing house for Garvey's
newspaper, The Blackman.
The performances that drew crowds, reputedly in their thousands, almost
nightly to Edelweis Park were varied and spirited: follies, vaudevilles, revues,
dances, elocution contests, beauty displays, greasy poles, boxing, an occasional
moving picture, and plays. In addition Garvey used the open-air theatre as forum
for a series of stirring addresses and to hold his international conventions. The
Director of Amusements for this enterprise was the talented Jamaican musician
and music-hall artiste, Professor Gerardo de Leon (actually Gerald Lyon) who
once gained notoriety by playing a piano non-stop for 48 hours as an advertising
stunt for the music shop run by Astley Clerk in Kingston.
The dramatic presentations at Edelweis Park ranged from humorous
interludes performed by the comedy team of Racca and Sandy and the minstrels
Harold and Trim, to numerous comic farces written by Ranny Williams and
performed by Ranny, his brother Roxis, Una Francis, Edna Jones, Pearl
Campbell, Phil Coppin, and others. Some dozen of these plays are attributed to
Ranny Williams over the two years 1929 and 1930. The most conspicuous
presentations were a number of dramatic pageants written and staged by Garvey
himself, then 43 years old. In August 1930, Garvey's paper, The Blackman,
announced the production of his "three great dramas" to be staged at Edelweis
Park on successive nights as follows:
On August 18: "The Coronation of an African King"
On August 19: "Roaming Jamaicans"
On August 20: "Slavery from Hut to Mansion"
The first play, with scenes set in Senegal, Dahomey, the Sudan, London,
Paris, Washington and New York, crystallized Garvey's world struggle for a free
and independent African nation providing an ancestral home for all African and
African-derived peoples. The second play depicted the life of migrant Jamaicans
who were forced by economic conditions to leave their homeland and find work
in the United States, Panama, Costa Rica, Cuba, Haiti, and other foreign lands.
The third play described the horrors of slavery and the slave traffic, the agitation
for freedom, emancipation, and progress thereafter. Garvey's view of black life
was always epic and his use of the stage to delineate this view in graphic
portrayals was an important part of his strategy to bring his message to grassroot
A few months before his dramas were staged, Garvey had become a candidate
for a seat on the Jamaican Legislative Council. In his manifesto of 14 objectives,
he had called for the creation of a Jamaican University and Polytechnic, and the
establishment of a National Opera House (read Theatre). The record is clear that
Garvey's opera house was intended to be a theatre of and for the black masses of
Ah want to tell the world 'bout we
In fact 'bout all de boys an' dem,
'bout liming by de lampost-beating pan
Busting ole talk an watching woman.
How we used to pappyshow police
An play respectable when we see priest.
Boy dat concrete eh used to play hard
Pants bottom used to grate way real bad.
An dem spitting competition-man dat was it
Racing lead pencil in drain-penny profit.
You used to be de best sweetman in town
Never mind we mamaguy you tambrand hound.
'member how we used to peep shango?
Maco wabine and tief mango?
How 'bout drinking rum without chaser,
An crashing wedding don't talk 'bout theater.
Going to college boy dat was big ting,
You eh learn much improve your skeffing.
Dem starch drill pants used to cut me leg
We used to mop snowball but never beg.
De tings we used to do ah could write a book
But you won't buy just tief a look.
So these thoughts I leave to you as man,
Long time story nothing better than.
Nothing depresses so much as when, caught
Suddenly unawares, the heart and memory
Come face to face and find forgotten pain
In a remembered glance or touch that sought
To ease that very hurt. And when, in vain
Later, one tries to fill some emptiness
With some moment that the heart should leave to
Memory, nothing depresses so much.
Theofilus M. Sebastian, one-time first class clerk with Edwards and Son, Inc.,
pouted his mouth and gazed outside at the darkening yard. He had been sitting
like this since I got there, scarcely saying anything.
"They making a mess 'a everything, no?" he asked, without looking at me.
"Well They had a lotta trouble with the port entry this morning," I lied.
He shook his head slowly, gazing down at the floor like God watching man
sink to inevitable damnation.
He said nothing else for the next five minutes, but when I rose to leave, he
looked at me, "You leaving me too? Oh well, if you want to go, you better go."
I sat down again.
"Thirty years I work with Edwards and Son, "he said, as if talking to himself,
"and I tell you, was no "son" then. When I start to work the "son" was not even
born yet. No five years ago, I used to see the "son" running 'round inna short
pants, and now that li'l puppy got the face fi discharge me."
Again he was silent. Then he said, "Oh well, I better no keep you back. If you
have to go, you better go."
I said, "See you later, Sah," and left.
I remember the first time I met Mr. Sebastian. I was only about nine or ten at
the time. Alberts, Inc. used to change the labels from condensed milk tins for
matinee tickets. One day Benacho and myself went to Alberts to change some
labels. There was a thin, little man with a wart on his nose changing the tickets.
When it was our turn, the man with the wart looked disapprovingly at us, and
stretched out his hand for the labels. Benacho handed over a bunch of labels.
The man took one look at them, and immediately threw up his arms, as if
imploring some higher power that abided above the cracked plaster of the
"That da exactly what I keep saying over and over again. You people are the
most backward, ignorant people on the face of the earth, and you will never
change. You all people born ignorant, and you going to dead ignorant."
"Something wrong?" asked Benacho, with unusual meekness, feeling the
weight of his ignorance upon him.
"Sure something wrong! Sure something wrong!" He took a deep breath, and
then continued slowly and dramatically, "How many times I tell you over, and
over, and over again. Cut the edge 'a the labels when you bring them here fi
change. Cut the edge 'a the labels. That no simple? Can't you understand? If you
can't understand, please, tell me so I can repeat it again."
It was the first time we had been there to change labels.
"Now go back home and cut them labels."
Benacho protested. The line was long. We had been waiting nearly an hour.
Besides the office would soon close.
The man ignored Benacho. "Next," he said, gesturing to the person behind
us. The boy pushed up. Benacho began to get angry.
"What the hell you think you doing," he shouted.
Almost immediately Mr. Sebastian's bald head, falling eye glasses and big
white eyes were at the door. "What happening, Freddie?"
"Just them two upstart boy here, Sah. I tell them long time.
"You da the boss here, Sah?" Benacho cut in.
"What your trouble, son?" Mr. Sebastian asked, coming forward.
"Come Freddie, you must could help out them boys, man." Mr. Sebastian
"Well, Sah, you know it's rules that they have the labels cut, and rules is
Sebastian was stopped by the profound authority of the cliche. "Well, I
suppose if it's rules, it's rules," he said, "Rules and regulations is important you
know But wait a minute." And the back flap of his coat disappeared through
the door. He came back a minute later with a pair of rusty scissors. He clipped
the ragged ends off the labels, and handed them to us.
"That solve the problem," he said triumphantly.
I often saw Mr. Sebastian after that, but he didn't seem to recognize me; and
when I said hello, he only said "Hi there," and pedalled off on his way. Then I
got a job as messenger with Edwards, Inc. I would not normally have worked
with them, but things were bad, and jobs were scarce.
My first day of work Mr. Sebastian came up to me.
"You the new messenger?" he said.
"Yes Sah," I answered.
"Glad to meet you," He said, shaking my hand gravely, "I is Theofilus M.
Sebastian, first class clerk with this establishment. I would like to welcome you
here. Come by my office, please."
His office was an irregular-shaped cubicle to one side of the main entrance. It
had no door, and half of the space was taken up by a staircase that connected
the outside of the building with the second flat. But it was neat. It was
amazingly neat and clean. It was as if the loose sheets of paper, the old books,
the rusty filing cabinets, the empty soft drink bottles and all the other elements
of confusion that characterized the main office, had ceased their advance at the
threshold of the cubicle. The paper and paper clips in boxes, the rubber stamps
and the quill pen in its reservoir were all carefully arranged on the desk. Even the
ash trays were spotless. Whenever Mr. Sebastian wanted to smoke, he went into
the main office.
The centre of the office, or rather the whole office, was dominated by a
ponderous mahogany desk, so large you had to squeeze in. your stomach to get
past it and the wall. By all visible evidence, this note-worthy object had been
painted and re-painted no less than twenty times, and the coats of varnish lay
upon it as thickly as the hide upon an alligator's back. Mr. Sebastian had Freddie
varnish it whenever Mr. Edwards' birthday came around. In this way, he
expressed his deep affection and loyalty for that venerable gentleman.
On the back wall of the office was a large sign in old English letters, done up
in gold paint, which assured everyone that with God all things were possible.
Mr. Sebastian recounted the history of Edwards, Inc. How, since its proud
beginnings Edwards, Inc. did serve as a most perfect example of a good and
upright firm. Mr. Edwards was a gentleman and honest, but like all honest
gentleman, he demanded a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. "The eyes of the
master fatten the corn, but the labourer was needed to reap it, and the best way
to get rid of work was to do it"On this business-like note, Mr. Sebastian ended
To say that either Mr. Edwards or Mr. Sebastian ran the place would be
untrue. Mr. Edwards had dignity, and Mr. Sebastian had a sense of drama, but no
one exercised authority.
Every morning at precisely ten to eight Mr. Sebastian rode past on his bicycle.
He always wore the same clothes: a long-sleeved white shirt, clean and
cardboard-stiff with starch, but already yellowing with age, and two sizes
oversized. Over this he wore a coat and dark pants, clipped around his ankle so
that the edges would not tangle in the bicycle chain.
He would get to work before everyone else, and open up the office with his
private key. In the evening, he would be the last to leave. After arranging his
desk neatly the paper stacked carefully, the rubber bands in a cardboard box
and the money counted and carefully put away, he closed the office and went
Mr. Edwards, an old Englishman with silver-white hair, came downstairs for
only about fifteen minutes each day. He would saunter about the office nodding
his head and smiling quietly at everyone. He would gradually drift over to Mr.
Sebastian's office; and, after asking if everything was alright, he would leave.
And so the life of the office went on, and the business sank slowly into debt.
At the end of my first week on the job, Mr. Sebastian invited me to his house
for a drink.
"It is customary," he said, "when we does get a new worker, for the boss to
welcome him formally. However, as you does know, Mr. Edwards is a very busy
man, so is my privilege to serve in that capacity."
He lived in a small house in a yard with four other houses. With his salary, it
was the best he could afford. I sat in the living room, and he went into the
kitchen. The furniture in the room was worn and faded. Droopy yellow curtains
with large red flowers hung languidly from the curtain rods, hiding the cracked
glass of the window panes, the dust of the window still, and the eternal
confusion that reigned in the yard outside.
Obviously someone had a passion for flowers. Plastic flowers were all over the
place in vases on the tables, in the corners, on the radio. There were even some
plastic ferns tacked around the doorway to the kitchen. On the walls were
yellowed photographs of stern men and women. All the men had big white eyes,
and all the women wore white dresses and wide hats. Some of them had artificial
fruits and flowers on the top of their hats.
Mr. Sebastian came out of the kitchen with two drinks of whiskey on a tray.
Near the drinks were two paper napkins. He very gravely put the napkins on the
table before me, and set the drinks on top of them. I was very impressed. I had
never had a drink with a paper napkin under it before.
"Is a pleasure having you working fo' us, son," he said. It was my official
welcome. "What we need is young people like you with a lot 'a brains. Edwards
is not the richest company, but it alright, and a lot a opportunities exist for a
young fellow like you. Take me for instance. I gone to work with Edwards, Inc.
as a messenger, just like you; and now I am second to Mr. Edwards. Just two
days Mr. Edwards come to me and say, 'Mr. Sebastian, is a long time since I do
this thing. Could you refresh my memory on how to fill out this port entry.'
Son I come to Edwards as nothing, and now I wouldn't be surprise if today
they couldn't work without me "
He talked on, and I listened drowsily. Slowly, I became aware that somebody
was gazing out at me from the darkness of the bedroom. I screwed up my eyes
to try to see who it was, while Mr. Sebastian talked on. Eventually he followed
my gaze, saw the person, and said, "Oh Sisty, Come here, darling. This is the
pride of my old age, Mr. Godfrey." His white eyes glowed out of his black face.
"Come here, sweetheart."
The child came a little further into the light, but still hung cautiously behind
She was grotesquely ugly. Her head was shaped like an inverted pear. Her
arms and legs were too short, and her mouth hung open as if someone has
loosened her jaw muscles.
"This is my only child, Mr. Godfrey," he said, "but how many men my age
you know could still make a child. Come, darling. What you think 'a she Mr.
Godfrey? Come, sweetheart, come take off you daddy shoes."
At this the child screamed and pull back in the darkness of the room. A tall
woman appeared at the kitchen door. She was thin and spindly as a piece of
"What you doing to the child, Theofilus? Why you can't stop tease the damn
She looked sharply at me, and, taking the child by the arms, pulled her into
the kitchen. After she left, Mr. Sebastian leaned over to me, and said with great
gravity, "Son, I think we better go somewhere else."
I worked two months with Edwards, Inc. Then word got around that Mr.
Edwards' son was coming back. Barry Edwards Jr. has been four years in the
United States studying Business Administration. The people in the office
discussed nothing except Barry's return. Freddie said that he remembered the
time he climbed up the lamp post to get down a kite for little Barry. The child
wouldn't leave his side for weeks after that. They even planned a welcome party
to be held at Freddie's house. An argument developed about what should be
served at the party, what time it should begin, whether to use paper cups or
glasses. Finally Freddie said he would take care of all the details. Mr. Sebastian
wasn't coming to the party, but everyone knew he would invite Barry to his
house for a drink.
On Tuesday a bulletin board appeared on the wall in the office. On the
bulletin board was a "Memo."
TO: general staff
FROM: business manager
RE: assumption of duties
This is to inform the general staff that, effective March 15th. Mr.
Barrington Edwards Jr. will assume duties as business manager. Mr.
Ewards Jr. requests the co-operation of all members of the staff in
making the change-over as smoothly as possible.
It was the first time a memo had been posted in that office, and everyone was
impressed They began to argue about the word memo. Freddie said it was from
the word memory, and meant something you had to remember.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Edwards Jr. came into the office. Freddie was
anxious to get off to a good start with the new manager. As soon as Mr. Edwards
Jr. came in, he went up to him and said, "Hi Barry, How you doing, Man? It
really nice to see you." Mr. Edwards Jr. gave an embarrassed, tight-lipped smile.
"How you making out," Freddie continued.
"I'm making out alright," Barry answered, and hurried out of the office.
That afternoon another memo appeared on the new bulletin board.
TO: general staff
FROM: business manager
RE: terms of address
In the interest of maintaining proper relationship between
management and labour, all members of the staff should at all times
address the business manager as Mr. Barrington Edwards Jr. This
order goes into effect from date of posting.
After that nobody mentioned the party.
A week later, when Mr. Sebastian got to work, he met a workman in the
office screwing a large clock to the wall. There was a slit at the top of the clock,
and next to it a stack of cards.
"What's that?" asked Mr. Sebastian cautiously.
"I no know, Sah. But it look like a clock," the workman answered.
"Who tell you fi put it there?"
"Barry, Sah," the workman answered.
"You mean, Mr. Edwards Jr.," Mr. Sebastian said, rather sternly.
The workman looked up surprised. "Yes, Sah, I mean Mr. Edwards Jr."
Soon another memo appeared.
TO: general staff
FROM: business manager
RE: time clock
In the interest of streamlining and modernizing the functioning of
this office, the business manager has installed a time clock. All
employees are required to check in and check out daily.
Freddie said that the way to check in was to push the card in the slit at the
top of the clock. You did the same thing to check out. The first week, everyone
checked in and out. Then the novelty wore off, and nobody bothered. When
Barry Jr. saw the empty cards, his face became red with anger. He hurried over
to his office, and began typing another memo. Halfway through, he tore it up. It
was time to call a staff meeting.
Everyone was excited about the staff meeting, and they all came except Mr.
Sebastian. Barry Jr. stood in front of them with his eyes on the floor. He bit his
lips and pulled air loudly through his nostrils. His voice was trembling when he
"This office is the epitome of inefficiency and laxitude, and, despite all my
efforts to induce some sort of orderliness, you have all obstinately persisted in
your antiquated ways."
Everyone was amazed and impressed by the size of the words. Freddie was
left with his mouth hanging open. Barry waited for the full effect to sink in.
"For instance. I call a meeting of the staff, and Mr. Sebastian simply takes it
upon himself to be absent. Freddie, will you kindly go over to Mr. Sebastian's
office, and convey my personal invitation to this meeting."
Freddie left, and a short while later, the old man came out of his office, and
walked slowly towards the gathering.
"You send for me, Sah?" he said.
"Yes, Mr. Sebastian, I did send for you. I was just talking about the staffs
general indifference to orders. I want to make special reference to the time
clock. I posted a memo a short while ago.
"Mr. Barrington, Sah," the old man began wearily, "I working with you
father thirty years now, Sah. Before time clock, and memo and all that. Even
before you born, Sah. And I can't remember the last time I come to work
"Mr. Sebastian," Barry cut in, "I am not asking for a history of your service
to this establishment. That is quite another matter. You have to move with the
times or be pulled under. This is a business firm, not a charitable organization,
and one of the first prerequisites for the efficient running of any business is that
the employees obey orders." Barry Jr. stopped suddenly, perhaps realizing that
he was being too rash.
Mr. Sebastian studied Barry intently for a while. Then, speaking from behind
a clot of emotions that had gathered in the back of his throat, he began slowly,
"Well Sah, since you are Mr. Edwards son, I think I will do as you want."
With that he turned, and walked back to his office.
That evening Freddie and the other clerks were discussing the day's events in
"Mr. Sebastian don't know how to handle that l'il puppy," Freddie said, "It
should been me. You see this?" He spread out his five fingers high over his head
in a dramatic flourish. "I would put the back of this straight across his nose."
The other shook their heads in dumb approval, while they studied the bottle
of rum before them as if they expected some crystal-ball revelation to bubble up
to them from its yellow depths.
A week after that everything came to a head. We were loading boxes of
margarine into trucks to be shipped to the districts. The shipment was way
behind time, and Barry Jr. was anxious to get it off as quickly as possible. He
had fired two of the hands for loading the day before, and there was a shortage
of loaders. When he came into the office, Barry saw Mr. Sebastian and Freddie
seated around the great desk in Mr. Sebastian's office.
"Could you two go to the back and help load that margarine?"
When Barry Jr. 's back was turned, Freddie screwed up his face in a gesture of
inexpressible scorn. Then he got up, and walked to the back.
A few minutes later Barry passed back, and saw Mr. Sebastian still at his desk.
"Mr. Sebastian, I asked you just a minute ago to lend a hand in the back,
The old man got up slowly from his desk. He looked like a man outraged.
"Mr. Barrington, Sah, thirty years I work with you father, and never one day
he ask me to do something like that. Since time, every person had always had his
place in this office."
"I repeat again, Mr. Sebastian. I am not interested in your history. Now either
you lend a hand in the back, or this establishment no longer needs you."
"Well, Sah," Mr. Sebastian said calmly, "If that is the way you put it, I better
leave now; and, collecting his hat and coat, he walked out of the door.
That evening Barry sent me to Mr. Sebastian's house for the key to the office.
When I got there, Mr. Sebastian was sitting in the dark at the far corner of the
living room with his daughter sitting at his feet and staring up into his face.
His eyes were closed, and he was rocking to and fro.
He opened his eyes and saw me standing by the door.
"Come in, son," he said.
"Hello, Mr. Sebastian."
"Hello, son. Sit down, no?"
He pulled himself up heavily.
"You would like to have a drink with me?"
He smiled a quiet smile, and I could feel his desperate need to maintain his
"Sure, Sah, I said.
He went into the kitchen, and came back a few minutes later with drinks in
his hand, but no paper towels underneath them.
"I sorry," he said, "but no paper towels left."
He sat down by the window, and gazed outside.
"Mr. Sebastian," I said, "the reason why I come here is that Mr. Barry send
me for the key."
"The key for the office, Sah."
"You tell Mr. Barry for me is Mr. Edwards give me that key personally, and is
only Mr. Edwards have a right to that key."
I stayed around for a few minutes, and then I left.
The next morning when I told Barry about it, he smiled to himself. "These
old people," he said, "they have no idea how fast the world changes, and how
fast you have to change to keep up with it. Anyway, we can't have a key floating
about the place. I'll see him about it over the weekend."
As for the other members of the staff, if they were outraged by Barry's
treatment of Mr. Sebastian, if they grumbled behind his back, if Freddie still
threatened to kick the shit out of Mr. Barrington Edwards Jr. when he wasn't
around, they were all the more cautious of their own precarious positions. If Mr.
Sebastian could be fired, anybody could be fired.
That evening old Mr. Edwards came downstairs. He sauntered about the
office as usual smiling pleasantly. He stopped by Freddie's desk, and asked
whether everything was alright. If the office was quieter than usual, he didn't
seem to notice it. Then he went over to Mr. Sebastian's office. He came out a
little while later looking puzzled.
"Is Mr. Sebastian ill?" he asked.
Nobody answered. Finally Freddie ventured, "Mr. Sebastian get discharged
"Discharged? Who discharged him?"
"Mr. Edwards Jr., Sah."
"Mr. Edwards Jr.?"
"You son, Sah."
"Oh yes, of course." the old man looked even more puzzled. "When my son
comes in, could you tell him to come upstairs, please."
Barry and Mr. Edwards were together for an hour upstairs. When Barry came
downstairs, his face wad red with anger. He walked straight through the door,
and did not come back all that day. A little while later, Mr. Edwards called me
upstairs and gave me a note to give to Mr. Sebastian.
When I got to Mr. Sebastian's house, he was seated in the same chair where I
had left him. He smiled when he saw the note from Mr. Edwards. Instead of
tearing open the envelope, he went inside, got an old silver letter opener, and
reverently pryed the note open. As he read his face brightened into a smile.
"He want me come back," he said simply.
"Good," I said, "When you coming back?"
The old man was thoughtful for a while.
"I hear Barry Jr. teach Freddie how to make out port entry, no?"
"So Freddie finally learn," he said, smiling with bitter satisfaction.
"You know, I think I going to retire. It's about time them people learn to run
that business without me. They will have to sometime, anyhow, because nobody
last forever. Maybe they better learn from now."
With that, he leaned back in his great old leather chair, and gently patted the
head of his daughter who sat in the gloom at his feet. The child looked up, and
her face brightened into an ugly smile.
GLENN D. GODFREY
SEASONS GREETINGS, LOVE AND REVOLUTION
Taxiing to 71 via Tijuana
the tires raised dust and dirty imps
rushing to open the door
brush the windshield ineffectually
with a rag, hoping for a nickel
or even a dime from the rich turistas.
No Aztec golden rings adorned their fingers
only eczemas set in grimy hopes
that each turista was santa claus
I was home. I recognized
poverty, filth and flies,
the shanties clutching
the knees of the hillside,
the garbage heap of homes
at the bottom of the arroyo.
Inside dark stores
in shadows cast by wings of buzzards
as rich turistas haggled
over the price of a poncho.
And in the hotel bar
where I saw my very first Mexican fag.
swallow the dregs of a drink
left by some woman he did not know
I wished that I had seen instead
the hot embrace
of the Latin lover
with the guerilla.
Footsteps crunch their way on cobbled sidewalks
Motor engines pierce the silence of the quiet
Movements are quickened
Suddenly the air is torn with the cry of
"Old Harbour, May Pen, Porus, Mandeville"?
In an instant the baggage is snatched.
'A fe me passenga dat man"
"Satan lef 'im."
"Nobady a go sell me fe ten cent.
Leh go me bag, me is not helpless," wrestles a
In the afternoon air the thick scent of trouble brews.
The voice of a woman burns with anguish
"help me no sah!"
But she gives up the futile pleading.
"Thank God a live a Kingston. But I reside in
Declares a non-passenger.
The situation was now moving up to a climax.
"You abominable scavengers
Why yuh wont mek people walk in peace
Fire and destruction shall ruin yuh
Blood shall run like rivers of Babylon,
When vengeance shall fall upon you, don't call I."
The transformation from side-walk observer
To sardines among sardines, is swift and violent
Each victim becomes a ball of sponge between a
"Driva let me out!" screeches a market woman.
"Quiet woman and sidung
'im wan fe mek 'im bread."
"Tsch. a. .a Tun yuh foot deh so nuh
Ah wants to see where I is going
Not where I is coming from.
Rivers begin to pave their way in the wrinkles
on their faces
As they begin the wait.
"Hey is I give you dat sore foot amn
An the sista in de holey, holey sweata"
"You no hear me sey me na buy no man teday?"
The taut face of the driver resembles a man close to
But the darn ten cents had to be paid.
The over-anxious fan belt,
Gets into a heated discussion with the carburetor
Suddenly the engine roars to a peak and bolts
the machinery forward;
Bounty hunters are left like statues
While with arms outstretched, a cloud of dust settles.
Words of unknown origin flood the mouths
Of the statues as they come alive,
As the minibus disappears around the corner,
The passengers in unison release a gasp
E. LLOYD NAPIER
CONFERENCE JAN. '71
We watched our own blood die
Mocked images in mirrors
Will not the echoes of silences
rippling through wind-blown lakes
bind us as shadows to their source?
Will ever the void of voices
chant not chatter
of words that fall
drooping thick-red curtains
on thread-thin ears?
Will always the offering
in honour of the people
stink of scholarship and rhetoric?
To live within the moment is the message.
Fingers on hilltop
lick sticks of grass and mud.
Asses graze on sand.
ALEJO CARPENTER: REGIONALIST OR UNIVERSALIST
Alejo Carpentier defies any facile categorization or identification with literary
schools and movements. He has passed through various literary movements -
Afro-Cubanismo, nativismo, Surrealism, Neorealism without allowing his
vision to be circumscribed by any one of these. He cannot be called a
costumbrista writer even though he deals with native customs; he is not simply a
realist, for his mythopoetic vision of reality transcends the limitations of
objective realism; he cannot be regarded as a naturalist though he sees man in a
special relationship to his environment. Even the basic questions of regionalism
and universalism are not easily distinguishable in Carpentier's work, for his vision
of regional (Latin American and Caribbean) reality is never narrow, parochial,
nor superficial. It is always the starting point for a serious world view, a pathway
to deeper insights into human experience, a way of interpreting human nature
and the human condition through regional experiences.
The traditional regionalist novel which dominated the Latin American literary
scene for the first three decades of the twentieth century focused on limited
literary themes within a restricting literary method. Having accepted the
nineteenth century realist-naturalist models of France, liberal, nationalist
novelists got trapped in a wave of unpenetrative, and at times, romantic,
description and evocation of local landscape, folklore, and rural life in their
effort to depict with pride the beauties of their landscape and to establish some
relation between man and nature. The result was a stereotyped view of man
being overwhelmed and crushed by the vastness of a living and dynamic
environment of trees, jungles, rivers, plains and deserts.
This approach to regionalism had little to offer the Caribbean and Latin
American peoples in terms of getting to understand themselves and to appreciate
the deeper currents of their historical and cultural heritage. It lacked the spirit of
searching and inward looking which alone could bring the peoples of the region
to examine and explore the living values that give this region its authentic
imprint; its real vitality. Regionalism was then merely an exhibition in
assimilation and alienation.
Another form of regionalism would take one away from the superficiality of
imitations in description and into an area that leads into universality; not the
kind of universality that hides the regional stamp giving the writer world-wide
acclaim because he cannot be distinguished as a Caribbean or Latin American
writer, (that would be a disgrace), but rather the kind that retains the imprint of
a valid and vibrant personality and has regional values to offer to the rest of the
Carpentier adheres to what he calls the regional contexts as his inevitable
point de depart for the discovery of the profound, transcendental reality of the
region. He rejects the facile "costumbrismo" (description of folk customs) of
Ecue-Yamba-0 saying, I realized that the profound, the real, the universal
aspect of the world I claimed to be depicting in my novel had remained outside
the scope of my observations." Carpentier admits that whereas he could see
dances, drumming, singing, religious rites etc. he had completely lost sight of
the animism of the Negro peasant, his relation to nature and the essence of his
ritual. (Tientos y Diferencias p. 13). And this is precisely the duty of the artist,
according to Carpentier:
It is not in painting a Venezuelan peasant or a Mexican Indian
that our novelist ought to fulfil his task, but rather in showing us
what there is among our peoples that is universal, i.e. related to the
wider world, even though this relation, in some cases, may manifest
itself in contrast, in our differences. (Tientos y Diferencias p. 11-12).
He therefore invites his fellow writers to explore local contexts in depth the
landscape, the cities, the cultural patterns, the political, racial, economic,
mythical, legendary, historical, scientific, material, spacial, and other
circumstances which have gone to shape the modern Caribbean and Latin
American man. All of these have a style of their own which must be defined and
given its true name. And then man's relation to these must be examined and put
into proper perspective, for this is the only way of revealing the fundamental
uniqueness of this region to the rest of the world. Revelling in typicalities and
the description of folk customs is not a means of understanding, interpreting and
defining the character of the surrounding praxis.
Regionalism, in Carpentier's case, does not fit into the old conventional
mould. One significant way in which he diverges from this established pattern, is
in his interpretation of the nature of the Caribbean or Latin American man's
conflict with himself in his search for an identity. His main characters are not
rural men who lose their individuality in the strangle-hold of the hinterland but
educated urban citizens in search of their identity and a sense of personal
fulfilment: Esteban, in El siglo de las luces, is a disorientated urban youth who
goes out in quest of meaningful identification with people and political
movements and ideologies because of his own uncertainty about his authentic
identity; the nameless protagonist of El acoso is a haunted youth who feels
alienated not only from himself but from the rest of the urban community; the
protagonist of Los pasos perdidos, also nameless, is a disillusioned young man
who gropes for identification with the folk elements of the American reality
during a sterile period of his experience when his European education began to
seem like a form of cultural alienation.
This last character, for example, highlights the dilemma of the contemporary
Caribbean man, facing the problems of assimilation and alienation. Because his
character is shaped in a mixture of cultural heritages (a European father, a
European education at University level; a Cuban mother and Cuban education in
his formative years), he suffers a peculiar internal tension when torn between
decisions involving a clash of these cultures. As he plunges into the jungle and
learns about the Indians, his disenchantment with Europe increases and there he
senses what seems to be an instinctive emotional and cultural attachment to the
Indians. This internal conflict leads him to engage in a series of symbolic
gestures: taking a resolute decision to adopt the Indians' mode of life; throwing
off his European dress, habits, religion, food and intellectualism; fighting to
ward off all temptations to be reflective, rationalistic and speculative; relegating
his wife, Ruth, and his lover, Mouche, to second place in his affections, whilst
lavishing his love on the native mestiza, Rosario. But the conflict is not so easily
resolved, for his European education, rationalism, and cultivated tastes are too
deeply rooted in his personality for the rejection to be effective. Europe is
forever within him with its language attractions, its spirit of artistic creativity
and the many technological and literary facilities on which he had become so
dependent. He is a musicologist and musician and cannot resist the urge to
compose music in an effort to convey what he has experienced in America, but
his problem is to cut away the navel string of his training in European art. His
youthful ambition to write a cantata on Shelley's Prometheus Unbound had
been frustrated by the outbreak of war, but it now comes back to him, in his
leisure, with renewed forcefulness, since the theme of the escaped prisoner
expresses his personal experience of escape from Europe, and provides the
necessary inspiration. Necessity forces him to return to civilization: he runs out
of paper which is unavailable in the jungle; he needs a copy of Shelley's book as
a source, but that too is unavailable; the available books are unsuitable (Fray
Pedro's Liber Usualis with its Christian thought is inappropriate for the
indigenous threnody he has in mind, and La Odisea, written in Spanish, is
unacceptable since he considers Spanish unfit for musical pieces). He has to
return to "civilization" with its rigid forms, its traditions of intellectual and
artistic sophistication and he is therefore forced to admit, "My renunciation
could never be real as long as I continued to surprise myself in such bad habits,"
that is, his inclination to European thought and tradition. (Los pasos perdidos,
There is really no end to his internal tug-of-war, for, as in the case of the
modern Caribbean man, the question of his true identity must accommodate the
facts of his historical experience of Europe, and the difficulty, if not
impossibility, of eradicating the profound imprint of Europe on his sensibility
and his character. But is must also come to terms with the strong indigenous
undercurrents which flood the sub-conscious.
This difficulty of finding one's true identity is central to the expression of a
regional consciousness in the Caribbean and also central to the trauma of artists
and sensitive individuals. The coloured West Indian poet, Derek Walcott,
crystalizes this problem in his poem, "A Far Cry From Africa" when he writes:
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can 1 face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?
(In a Green Night, p. 18)
The Cuban mulatto, Nicolas Guillen, utters the anguished cry of a man who
has lost his name:
Do you know my other name, the one
that came with me from that enormous land,
the bloody, captured name that crossed the sea
which came in chains across the sea?
Am I Yelofe?
Nicolas Yelofe perhaps?
Or Nicolas Bakongo?
Perhaps Nicolas Kumba?
Could I be Nicolas Kongue?
Oh, who knows?
What an enigma in the waters of the sea!
(El apellido, Translated by G.R. Coulthard)
The Martinican writer, Aim6 Cesaire, caught in the same dilemma, works out
an exit in his poetry. As he said to Rene Depestre in an interview:
I don't apologise for French influence. Like it or not, I am a poet
writing in French, and it is clear that French literature has
influenced me. What I would stress however is the fact that, taking
French literature as a starting point, I have striven to create a new
language, capable of expressing the African heritage. To put it
another way, the French language was an instrument which I wished
to endow with a new expressiveness. I wished to write a Caribbean
French, a black French, which although French, would bear a black
Here are people grappling with a regional problem but at a level that explores
profound psychological and cultural issues. That is the level of Carpentier's
Carpentier's protagonist in Los pasos perdidos, in the course of all his moral,
emotional and cultural tensions, opens up a range of human experiences that are
universal and yet regional. He is more than a modern Caribbean man. He is a
modern urban man with all the pressures of big city life forcing him into
isolation, frustration and boredom. He is being consumed in a state of spiritual
emptiness and lack of inspiration. His wife is so caught up with the busy life of
the theatre that she can only spare him a few brief moments on Sundays. There
is no delight in his home life, so he keeps himself extremely busy at his job in an
attempt to forget his inner suffering and loneliness and to fill up the vacuum
created by time. He takes recourse to revelry and drunkeness as escape valves to
relieve his sense of disorientation, lack of fulfilment in life, solitude and boring
repetition of meaningless activities. As he states the problem:
There were great lagoons of weeks and weeks in the chronicle of
my own life; periods that left me no valid memory, no mark of any
exceptional sensation, no lasting emotion; days in which every
gesture produced the obsessing impression that I had done it before in
identical circumstances that I had sat in the same corner, that I had
told the same story ascending and descending the hill of time with
the same stone on my shoulder. (Los pasos perdidos. p. 14).
He sees hundreds of people like himself in the modern big city; people who talk
vaguely of yoga, astrology, mysticism and existentialism as forms of escape from
the drudgery of their existence; people who are concerned with the rapid passing
of time and their relative lack of accomplishment; frustrated people who drink
daily, "so as to defend themselves against discouragement, the anguish of failure,
dissatisfaction with themselves, fear of rejection of a manuscript or simply the
hardness of city life with problems of perennial anonymity among the multitude
and with the eternal rush." (Los pasos perdidos. p. 34).
He concludes that the real problem is a generational crisis of moral and
spiritual decadence for which contemporary man has no absolute answer:
To escape from this, in this world in which it is my lot to live, was
just as impossible as trying to relive in this age, certain gestures of
heroism and sanctity. We had fallen back into the age of the
man-wasp, the No-man, when souls were sold not to the Devil, but
to the Accountant and to the Galley Boatswain. (p. 15).
It is this kind of inner life that relates Carpentier's character to man outside the
Caribbean region. He could well be an anguished soul in Buenos Aires or London
or New York or Paris.
Similarly, the way in which Carpentier dramatizes the tenderness of his
conscience has little to do with narrow regionalism. He is a human being with
constant crises of conscience and moral struggles which draw him into serious
introspection. His decision to remain in America brings with it twinges of
conscience over the unfairness of his action in causing the responsibility for his
defection to fall on the shoulders of the Curator of the University who had
arranged his trip and demonstrated confidence in his integrity. In a moment of
mental torture, he says, "Nevertheless, I cannot do it because my conscience has
returned to the place it once deserted, and I had had it so far removed that it has
come back to me full of distrust and grief. (p. 210).
He suffers further pangs of conscience when the priest, Fray Pedro, advises
him to marry Rosario. He recognizes that, inspite of the social and emotional
impasse between his wife and himself, his genuine love for Rosario cannot justify
his marrying her and living in bigamy.
Such deception is beneath his dignity:
I have forbidden myself from telling lies the idea of deceiving
her is revolting the awareness of my conscience still prevents me
from showing such meanness. (p. 230-231).
And then there is always the nagging thought that "there is a paper, signed and
legalized, back there, far away, which strips me of all moral strength." (p. 233).
It is similar qualms of conscience which highlight his humanity, dramatically
withholding him from committing murder. Nicasio, the leper, has raped a young
village girl. He is found in the woods by Marcos and the protagonist. The latter
has the gun on his shoulder ready to execute the rapist, but his finger freezes on
the trigger as he considers that he who protested the massacres in Europe is now
about to take a sacred life. He compresses the moral struggle in these few lines:
But there stood two eyes: two eyes without eyelids, almost lifeless,
but they kept on looking To wipe out those two eyes. A man's
two eyes something within me resisted the act as if something
would have changed forever from the very moment I pressed the
trigger. There are acts which build walls, milestones, boundaries in
one's existence. And I was afraid of the life which would commence
for me from the moment I made myself an executioner. (p. 238).
More than that his characters are motivated by universal mythical dreams and
visions, and here, one does not make reference to his constant allusions to Greek
mythology. This is by far too conscious and obvious a way of relating one's
creative work to what is considered universal literature. One refers, rather, to
Carpentier's mytho-poetic vision of the landscape of the region. All around
whether in the riverbeds of gold or the luxuriant slopes and valleys, he sees
mythical associations related to man's general motivations and quests. One of his
recurrent themes is man's search for happiness on earth, the mythical pursuit of
a Paradise on earth.
Ostensibly, the protagonist of Los pasos perdidos goes into the jungle in
search of musical instruments, but the issue goes deeper than that. He accepts
the job as a means of escape from the routine of his hum-drum life in the big
city. He is out in search of new experiences and happiness, and this he finds in
the simplicity and intelligence of the Indians' way of life. Very early he admits
to El Adelantado that he is aware that the beautiful American jungle cannot be
the perfect Paradise mapped out by ancient cartographers since there exist
countless plagues of insects, reptiles, sicknesses, floods and hunger. But at least,
he claims man finds true happiness even in the fierce struggle for survival against
What he finds, however, is an elusive happiness. On his return to the jungle,
he is faced with an unexpected change: the priest has been murdered by
bushmen; Adelantado's settlement has disintegrated; the people with whom he
once lived in an ideal community have disappeared; the Greek Yannes is
apparently demented or obsessed with a diamond mine he has just discovered;
his lover, Rosario, is married to Marcos. To crown it all, the jungle has arbitrarily
covered over the Greek's former settlement and the river has swollen to the
point where it covers the entrance to the village. Symbolically, the door to the
jungle, his Garden of Eden, is concealed. Disappointed and frustrated, the hero
accepts the fact that there is no real Paradise on earth. America, like Europe, has
its deceiving appearances and its horrors. Man everywhere, like the mythical
Sysiphus, must one day be snatched away from the fleeting pleasures and the
brief respite of a temporary Paradise to face the harsh realities of hell.
Significantly, he closes the story of his experiences with the fateful words,
"Today is the end of Sysiphus' holidays." (p. 286).
The myth of the Earthly Paradise is more fully developed in El siglo de las
luces. Esteban's idealistic and enthusiastic involvement in the revolutionary
movement is really a search for fulfilment and happiness in life. He is reaching
out for the Better World, the Promised Land which Victor and his colleagues
promise to establish. What they aspire to is a world of bliss:
An ideal of equality and harmony, at the same time as they work for
the perfection of the Individual, destined to rise, with the help of
Reason and Enlightenment, to the spheres where the human being
would forever be free from fears and doubts. (El siglo de las
luces. p. 71).
As Esteban leaves Haiti for France, he imagines himself guided by the biblical
Column of Fire towards a Promised Land. When he returns to the Caribbean to help
with the Revolution, he gets the feeling of being in the world of Creation, in the
Garden of Eden; the Lost Paradise has been regained:
Esteban could see in the coral forests a tangible image, a close
figuration and yet so inaccessible of Paradise Lost. (p. 151 ).
Indeed, this special world is inaccessible and he never seems to cease looking for
it even though he comes upon so many signs of it. The myth of the Promised
Land again seems to materialize and becomes a physical reality as he enters the
mouth of the Orinoco, whose verdant splendor opens up for him the world of
the Earthly Paradise.
Esteban soon realizes, however, that this newly discovered Paradise is nothing
but a vast and beautiful garden without the reality of happiness in it. The
horrors of the guillotine, massacres, warfare, Negro uprisings, and the rivalry and
cruelty of ambitious and power-thirsty leaders leave Esteban frustrated in his
search for a Better World. As the author puts it:
And to a Better World Esteban had gone not so long ago, led by
the Great Column of Fire which loomed in the East. Now he
returned from his unaccomplished mission with a great weariness
that vainly sought relief in the recollection of some little likeable
detail. (p. 211).
He returns to Cuba disillusioned with the empty idealism articulated by so many
people who fail to support their words with action. He begins to feel that his
only hope is to forget the pursuit of collective happiness for mankind and to
concentrate on his personal happiness within:
This time the revolution has failed. Perhaps the next one will be
good. But for them to get me out when it breaks out they will have
to search for me with lanterns even at midday. Beware of beautiful
words; beware of better Worlds created out of words. Our age suffers
from an excess of words. There is no Promised Land other than that
which man finds within himself. (p. 223).
This search for Utopian happiness has no limits in time or space. Carpentier
points out that the Caribs migrated northwards in search of a Promised Land,
that is, the Inca Empire of the north; ancient cartographers from Asia and Africa
believed in the existence of an Earthly Paradise. Besides, man is forever pursuing
personal happiness, however momentary it may be, in his love affairs, his
adventurous exploits, his desire for the excitement and thrills of drugs and
travelling. Carpentier's characters are like that: Mouche and her lover try to find
happiness in adultery and travels in exotic lands; Sofia flees to Victor Hughes'
bed to find it; Hughes engages in active politics and Esteban in the Revolution.
They have a common goal but also a common end pessimism, defeat and
disillusionment. Carpentier, convinced of the historical and universal significance
of this quest, allows these thoughts to float through Esteban's mind as he sails
up the Orinoco:
According to the colour of the century, the myth changed its
character, always responding to new tastes, but it always remained
the same: there was, there had to be, it was necessary that there
should be somewhere in the present any present time a Better
World. (p. 211).
Ti Noel expresses a similar thought in El reino de este mundo, claiming that
"man forever longs for a form of happiness situated somewhere beyond the
limits of what he has available to him." (El reino de este mundo. p. 119). Like
Esteban then, he seems to admit the inevitable frustration that results from
man's pursuit of idealistic and mythical worlds and recommends living in this
world, accepting its harsh realities and striving for the happiness and satisfaction
that can be found in loving and in humble service:
Man's greatness lies precisely in his wish to be better than what he
actually is; in imposing tasks on himself. In the kingdom of heaven
there is no greatness to conquer, since there everything falls within
the categories of an established hierarchy, the unknown clarified,
endless life, impossibility of sacrifice, rest and pleasure. For that
reason, man, overburdened with pains and tasks, beautiful even in
his misery, capable of loving in the midst of plagues, can only
achieve greatness, his maximum stature in the kingdom of this
world. (p. 119-120).
To Carpentier, then, man will eternally be finding new outlets through which to
channel the optimism, idealism and visionary enthusiasm so basic to the human
spirit. He will set himself goals and struggle to achieve them, making sacrifices in
the process, notwithstanding all the evidence of weakness in human nature. Life
will continue in a vicious circle: aspirations and hopes of escape from misery, the
pursuit of a dream world of bliss, always terminating in inevitable frustration.
This is part and parcel of what Carpentier sees as the epic dimension of
regional reality the story of man in struggle in his social interaction, in class
stratifications, in economic inequalities, in revolutions. His role therefore is to
bring the epos to bear upon the agon, the word expressing the essence of the
struggle. It is mass movement in history that attracts his eye, the collective
actions which determine the pattern of the individual's life and reveal the basic
promptings of the human spirit. His individual characters, however strong, can
never determine the course of history. They are the pawn of history, time and
events. Things evolve, they happen and man gets caught up in the course of
events. This happens to Victor Hughes, Esteban and Sofia in El siglo ; and to
Christophe, Bouckman and Ti Noel in El reino Their aspirations and dreams
are fed and moulded by the forces in history that involve the masses. The epic
material available to the writer is therefore a means of opening up a world-view
of history and of man's relation to the historical processes.
This is why Victor Hughes is the controversial and enigmatic character he is in
El siglo de las luces. His fickleness has to be seen as part of the vicissitudes of life
and the fluctuations in great historical movements. He is basically an ambitious
opportunist whose convictions and life pattern are determined by the course of
events. He simply shifts with the tide of a Revolution in which he is so
intimately involved that the history of the movement in the Caribbean is almost
identical with his personal history. As he confesses, "The Revolution has given
my existence an objective. I have been assigned a role in this grand event of our
age and I shall try to show my maximum stature in it." (El siglo p. 127). If
the Jacobin Revolutionary leaders condemn freemasonry, Hughes, though
previously the most ardent of freemasons, immediately condemns it as
counter-revolutionary and upholds Jacobin morality as the standard of the day.
While Robespierre leads the Committee of Public Safety in his reign of terror,
Hughes assiduously emulates him in the Caribbean. When the early revolutionary
idealists preach equality, fraternity and liberty, Hughes follows suit, but has no
qualms about the re-enslavement of Negroes as a political strategy after
Napoleon, as First Consul, orders it. The man who persecutes the church in
Guadeloupe with the guillotine is the very man who, in Guyana, can reinstate
the Church, hear mass and even persecute those who had earlier renounced their
faith and taken an oath to the Revolutionary Constitution.
What Carpentier calls "the dramatic dichotomy" of Victor Hughes'
extraordinary personality is, in fact, the essence of the character's epic stature.
He represents a fundamental human search for fulfilment and greatness and
demonstrates, in his own life, the possibilities open to man for struggle and
sacrifice and for the release of the epic potentialities in human nature.
J.A. GEORGE IRISH
He lived a nightmare
with his coal and his wood
he could only see the world
through the thick smoke-screen
of the pit
it wasn't clear
it was unattractive
he was black
black as the coal he made
he saw everything
in pure black
he saw his whole future
in the black substance
through black eyes
sits his hopes
milk and honey
(for George Lamming)
Turning His huge wrist, what spent God,
Bent on attrition, let loose these
Under the tides' assertions?
Trunks without names
They surface in our century
From underneath the maiden's floated smile
Or hunger down the valleys of a Gulf whose bile
Brings only flotsam back
To our moated city.
The shark in green, commercial seas
Goes over the decanted poles
And gunwales of our history
Where civil salmon ride at ease
And the drowned crew stare from their portholes
But these go down into ancestral darkness.
Where neither gills nor current stalk
These stalk, in hellish opera,
Their catch-all flap-mouths and pigs' eyes
Narrowed for one instruction.
But the God's undone.
Other, steel Leviathans
Contradict the sea's tongue,
Its sybaritic cadences for home:
And the sky too has been colonised.
Yet, on dark evenings, mesmerised,
Something else rises, to mackerel light
Something else makes of its exiled cry
Fountains and rainbows!
The liner churns,
The aircraft, armoured, groans from its lair
For London, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome,
Cities of light their medieval nightmare
While on the water some great beast
Subsides: meanders to comatose
In the God's eye,
Mute with exhaustion:
Its forehead to the dying sun to die.
BEFORE THE PEOPLE BECAME
The publication of Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other
Plays (i.e. The Sea at Dauphin, Malcauchon and Ti-Jean and His Brothers) will
do much for the development of the drama in the West Indies; it also makes
available a body of work covering a period of about sixteen years (The Sea at
Dauphin was first published in 1954), a selection which excludes plays written
even earlier than that. These plays have been ignored in recent assessments of
Walcott's work, but now that four have been put together in one volume, it
cannot avoid being seen that Walcott the poet is inseparable from Walcott the
dramatist, and that a profound dialogue and a balance exist between the
presence and problems explored in the social world created in his plays, and the
dark internalisations of his poems. (Readers of Walcott will recognize that the
simple contrast implied here is hardly tenable by the time we come to Dream on
It is worth recognizing that while tired new voices have been drumming about
'the folk', 'the folk language,' 'folk culture' and 'bringing theatre to the people,'
Walcott ("Before the people became popular he loved them") has been
demonstrating in his work over the last twenty years how a serious artist, whose
primary interest is literature, converts these self-indulgent abstractions into art.
His long practical association with plays and players in his native St. Lucia (the
St. Lucia Arts Guild), then at the University of the West Indies (the theatre
flourished at the Campus during Walcott's days as an undergraduate) and now in
Trinidad (as founder and artistic director of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop) has
given Walcott a sense of theatre and audience which creates community out of
groups of different biases and political creeds an enormous achievement
anywhere, but invaluable in the West Indies today.
A bonus for purchasers of this worthy volume is Walcott's introductory essay
embarrassingly honest, intense, intelligent and immense in conception.
Although over-written in places it strikes this reviewer as the finest piece of
non-fiction writing to have come out of the West Indies.
In prose fiction, two novels by writers of Indian origin work through Indian
raw material to give an impression of West Indian desolation and the struggles
ahead for the post-independence West Indians. Shiva Naipaul's Fireflies
chronicles the decline of a Hindu family called the Khojas and examines the
effect of this loss of an order on succeeding generations, in particular, the
sub-family of the Lutchmans. Much of the material here will appear familiar to
readers of A House for Mr. Biswas, but Shiva Naipaul's intention is to focus on
Mrs. Lutchman her struggle to make meanings and to find independence in the
kind of world that nearly overwhelmed Mr. Biswas. At the end, Mrs. Lutchman
has lost husband and sons, and chastened by life, has to accept charity from a
Shiva Naipaul's novel is also concerned with the ways in which, in a world of
flux, the young and the old seem to be equally lost (conflict between
generations,. the frenzy and self-violation of the young, the blindness or despair
of the old, and the attempts of the old to obtain vicarious fulfilment in their
children's 'achievement'). This is a novel that will help foreign readers, and some
West Indians, including historians, to understand West Indian society better, for
Shiva Naipaul is much more obvious about Indian destitution, cultural collapse,
and Indian self-deception about belonging to a traditional culture than is his
older brother in A House for Mr. Biswas. But Fireflies needs pruning of the
author's self-indulgent, self-insulating reportage; while its themes are loudly
announced it does not explore them with enough imaginative intensity or
control either to take us beyond the sociological points or to prevent Mr.
Lutchman ('Mr. Biswas rides again') from taking our attention away from Mrs.
Lutchman at crucial periods in the work.
Samuel Selvon's The Plains of Caroni deals with tragedy arising out of an
'arranged' Indian wedding, and with a kind of Sons and Lovers situation in the
context of a traditional sugar-cane farming area where mechanisation is being
introduced by the overseas-owned Company. Selvon's frustrated lovers are
melodramatically presented, and his treatment of the coming of the machine too
impatient and too obviously done from the Company's point of view. But if
Selvon does not have Hardy's genius, Seeta's power drive, without either
intelligence or sensibility behind it, is highly expressive of the frustration of her
own generation. Her transference of emotion to Romesh, her son by her lover
Balgohn, and her attempts to inspire Romesh to rule the world economically are
symptoms of this too. The process of the son's self-liberation from the clutch of
a preceding generation's confusion, frustration and cultural bias, the emergence
of Romesh as the West Indian person seeking to make something new is the most
significant latent theme in a most disappointing novel.
In Wilson Harris's Ascent to Omai we can find conflict between generations
(the factory-workers, Adam and his son Victor) and the desire to rule the world
economically: "His father was a compulsive dancer, trouble-maker, fighter
(member of the rowdy band himself), complusive miner (combed the Cuyuni for
gold) but since the death of his wife Victor's mother had become
stone-drunk, crazed by grief, and had returned to his original craft-welding. His
sole ambition now was to build his own shop, working premises. Set up as a
capitalist. Make war on poverty" (p. 30). But Harris's concern with man's
fixations in this world, the stunned robot existence ("Unfeeling yoke") one is
regimented into leading, moves beyond a simple definition of areas of conflict.
The relationship between Adam and Victor is a complex one: the mirror Victor
flashes upon his father all year round as he emerged from the factory after work,
is, in one light, a spear prodding the father on to more strenuous effort: "Prayed
to his idol to give his bread: bread he needed to fill his side, gnawing side,
gnawing appetite, tin mines, silver mines, gold mines, OH MY CHASM; appetite
for emotion, appetite for knowledge, appetite for industry. Growing side,
growing lust, growing persuasion" (p. 35). But the void or chasm in Victor's life
is not just a material one, and the light he is flashing on his father is, although
Victor does not consciously know it, a prayer also for transformation and release
from this kind of fixation; this light moreover, is to return upon Victor as a
relayed message forty years later, from the wing-tip of an aeroplane flying over
Omai during Victor's ascent.
When a strike occurs at the works, Adam sets fire to the factory, goes berserk,
runs to his own home and burns bed and board, an action corresponding to that
of the schoolboy Victor who mutilates school property, and is deprived of his
scholarship, caned, and expelled: "He had been caned that day in school for
burning a hole in his exercise book. Heat of the sun. Blazing mirror. 'Daylight
robbery,' schoolmaster and judge had said. 'Taxpayer's money.' 'Twelve strokes
with the cat,' the voice in the chasm intoned. 'Man of brimstone. Sentenced by
the court' (p. 37). When asked at the trial to explain his (and Victor's) action,
Adam replies: 'I sought to unmake myself to make something I lost before I
was born. The land that is nowhere. Manoa'" (p. 58). Victor, and the judge at
the trial are implicated in this re-making too.
The literal ascent of the title is the action with which the novel begins -
Victor as a man climbing in pursuit of "the ruined pork-knocker, destitute miner,
broken millionaire" who we can conveniently identify as Adam. But this action
is interrupted, as it were, by the meditations of the judge as he sits in a doomed
aeroplane flying over Omai, re-living Adam's trial after forty years. It is through
the narrator/author/character figure of the judge that the meaning of the novel
begins to issue. It is not Adam on trial, or Victor or Judge, but all mankind.
'Why,' judge groaned, glancing at his watch, coiled instinct, spring of alarm
(doomed doomed unless) 'why,' he repeated, 'were he and all men so
obsessed by the clock whether black welder or white scrivener, clerk of court
or registrar of births prisoners of time, in time sentenced, paroled? Contrary
to what anyone might think,' the judge continued to address his pad 'it wasn't a
rhetorical question. It was a question about obsession with security, with
material security, with force, violence, material origin, masks or adventure,
masks of history' (p. 81).
Ascent to Omai is Harris' most concentrated attempt so far to give sensuous
reality to a number of ideas we can infer from the work: that co-existing with,
and possible outside of Time, and greater than human consciousness is an
'unruined consciousness' of which we have unexpected, seemingly supernatural,
intimations; that these intimations from space ("a series of ghosts" born of
man's unconscious reserves) take the form of parallels, correspondences,
coincidences, continuities, premonitions, intuitions etc; and that, paradoxically,
it is possible to become conscious of these precarious establishments of unruined
consciousness, which can alchemise our lives, even out of the ruins of history
and civilisations. To become conscious in this way is to begin to break through
the walls of our obsession with party and faction: "There were the lucky ones
who feared and loathed the unlucky have-nots though they refused to admit it
because, in effect, they (the haves) saw their accumulative fortunes as
fundamentally arbitrary and ornamental which they needed to collectivize into a
god of worth. There were the unlucky have-nots who hated and idolized the
lucky haves though they refused to admit it because, in effect, they (the
have-nots) saw their condition as fundamentally sinful and ugly which they
needed to justify within a scapegoat waxworks of the baboon. Either way it
was fundamentally an ornamentation of waste, a fixation of greed they
enshrined so that, in fact, when they spoke of harmony and peace invariably
they meant war (bloody wasteful war) and when they spoke of war invaribly
they meant a kind of insane hero-worship or anti-hero-worship, depending on
the fashions of war and peace at the moment." (pp. 64-65).
For Harris, true revolutionary activity, and the remaking of self and society
along humane, non-fascist lines can begin only with consciousness of man's
paradoxical condition: "The fact was it was the repudiation of the robot of
the puppet which was actually at stake all the time through a revelation of
itself as a ruined instrument of unruined consciousness, as a brain that was
instrumental rather than ultimate. A revelation of unruined consciousness that
went to the heart of the human brain or hell on earth by, as it were, persisting
through and within all ruined personality, like a salutary lighthouse within and
beyond desolation or claim, fortress or wall." (P. 50). If Mr. Harris's novel seems
difficult, the difficulty as Dulan Barber wrote in Tribune (June 12, 1970) is "not
that he is obscure at all, but that our viewpoint is so much narrower than his."
There can be no anger when
Hands shut out the warmth
Of eyes and strangle the
Whispering voices of the waves.
There can be no anger
In the last spoonful of tins
Of desperation stocked
In that quiet warehouse
Of your soul.
There can be no anger where
The footprints of your passage
Stamped on my lips this silence.
In a far off land where
Death chose to end
Your torture, yes, in
A land far away from
Black voices, you remember,
Yes, black voices, there can be no anger.
There can be no anger
When twin worlds
Of verse and virus
Made the choice that
You yourself had made.
REQUIEM FOR A CARIBBEAN FISHERMAN
Raking long furrows with his little boat's prow,
Gathering small harvests with his scything net,
All his time he farmed acres of the sea.
By nature as by circumstance solitary,
He knew no hollowness in his shallow dug-out
Considering pathways of the fish, and of clouds and stars,
Learning the geometry of waters and the verse of weathers.
By reason of strength he lived fourscore years
And by braata of Big-Massa yet another seven.
He died uncomplaining after saying he was sleepy.
To catalogue his virtues and relegate his failures
Can avail him nothing, nor much avail us.
What we can do for him ultimately now
Is rest him calm in the narrowest of craft,
Point him desolately toward the horizon.
A FEW LINES WRITTEN TO A FRIEND SLOWLY
DYING IN VIET NAM
The year is a quaint apologetic figure;
Thinned by the stench of fever,
Writhing the green blade hell you tread.
The monsoons offering their lean palms
You lie helpless,
Slowly rotting in that endless sea of greeness;
Fear muzzled at your side.
By the time this note arrives, you may be
Careme has begun to parch your brown dirt,
And the red seed dotting the hills
Reminds us of that red hell you forage in
a different land.
Yet you fight on with that same ragged
zeal that drags this pen.
You are not afraid to die where your voice
The bang of your boot on dry twigs,
Your mother has bought her black shroud;
When you die your soul flies home to God.
To that green-bordered sea, where
pink shell mourn, and the soft tumbling
Drums your lamentation to the sand.
It is so useless rotting in a forcing land.
washing the feet
of moss-locked cliffs
bored fingers of the sea
offer only metaphors
in the wounded sunset
staggering across the evening.
THE NOVEL AS SOCIOLOGY AS BORE
Die The Long Day Orlando Patterson, William Morrow & Co. Inc., New York,
1972, 253 pp.
In the making of fiction as in the making of war appreciation of the field
alone is not enough.
That is why there have been so many competent staff officers and so few
good generals. Knowing in the head what ought to be done is only the beginning
of the business. Having the instinct for when the right thing ought to be done in
a new way, or even in an old way, is what counts.
Orlando Patterson knows a great deal about the plantation society of late
Eighteenth Century Jamaica. What he does not possess is the novelist's instinct
that would enable him to turn this knowledge into a form that calls up any
response in us which would not have been aroused had he offered us a lecture,
an essay or a detailed monograph.
Die The Long Day is a collection of sociologist's notes put into the mouths
and actions of imaginary characters. There its connection with the novelist's
craft and sullen art ends.
Not only the work of a serious and valuable mind merits this sort of harsh
introduction. And I believe Dr. Patterson to be one of our more serious, more
valuable talents. If only he would leave fiction alone.
In Die The Long Day, his understanding of the period, his wide knowledge of
the social structure, his gift for penetrating and original analysis, above all, his
compassion are abundantly demonstrated.
Why, then, no novel?
There is, really, no more answer to that than why does a good swimmer have
to wear an aqualung if he hopes to survive for long underwater. He is out of his
element; and although he may go through the motions of being a fish, and makes
observations which no fish could hope to make, he is essentially an intruder.
As far as fiction is concerned, Dr. Patterson is an intruder. He moves about in
it with considerable intelligence, but so encumbered by extraneous equipment
that we wait for him to break surface with a certain measure of anxiety.
He has not got, in short, what Henry James long ago recognized as the
indispensable (and unteachable) pre-requisite of the novelist: the 'sense of felt
life'. He has a sense of period, certainly. He has the information about what
people in general wore and ate; how they worked, relaxed, feared disease,
addressed each other and regarded each other. But what we miss is that relish of
singularity in character without which even the 'historical' novel becomes an
The thing that distinguishes the good painters, John Berger once remarked, is
their gift for making love to everything that moves and everything that doesn't. I
paraphrase, but what Berger meant was that for the good painter, a naked
woman, a flower, a battered old straw chair, a golden helmet and a side of raw
beef hung from a hook in a butcher's shop must all inspire an equality, a
parliament, of sensual exhilaration. They must each receive an unanimous vote
from what prompts him to interpret texture, colour and shape.
Something of the same sort may be said of the good novelist. The person he is
lifting out of that terrifying white page must be himself; at the moment of lift: a
creature so real that the novelist ceases to be himself; a flesh so unique that its
constipation is, for the moment, more important to the novelist than the social
context in which it strains for a successful crap.
As Lawrence reminded us we need the novelist because he alone can give us
the 'manalive' Not political man, nor religious man, nor sociological man, nor
man tied to any circumstances; but the thin sack untidily stuffed with heart,
lungs, guts and a brain that cannot really imagine any other existence continuing
after it ceases to register it.
The statistical accretions from which Dr. Patterson attempts to assemble
characters in Die The Long Day are not 'manalive' They are not Dickensian
qrotesques. They do not even achieve the dignity of the deliberately cartooned
types that enliven the work of contemporaries such as Donald Barthlme or
They are like those horrible Barbie dolls to which our misguided generation
have added external sexual characteristics in the belief that we are doing our
children a service by letting it all hang out. They are obscene not because they
come with little plastic breasts, penises and vaginal lips, but because they leave
nothing for the child's imagination to fashion in the shape of tits, cunt and cock.
Dr. Patterson's fiction, beginning with Children of Sisyphus through An
Absence of Ruins and now, we must devoutly hope, ending with Die The Long
Day is 'Barbie doll' fiction, It is slick, it is exact and it is corrupt. There is no
life in it because Dr. Patterson cannot believe the reader needs only the North
Star from the novelist to sail himself into a world of life.
In another time, one could have said to Dr. Patterson, with confidence, that
the Muse is not only fickle, but cruel: a real divinity who enjoys making a damn
fool of those who have no business putting their hands up Her skirts.
Nowadays, one can only say to Dr. Patterson that when you venture into
fiction without having the real root of the matter in you then you are going to
look a damned fool no matter how honourable your intentions.
For example: in the first chapter of Die The Long Day, the runaway slave
woman, Quasheba, is being hunted through some rough interior mountain
country by Maroons. When we first meet her, she has had her left arm "almost
severed just below the elbow" by a machete. Despite this she has led a three men
party of Maroon hunters, through their own territory, a merry chase for some
hours. "Often", we are assured by Dr. Patterson, "they missed her only by
Now that is some woman or they are the most inept bunch of Maroons
who ever shortchanged the slave-owners down below whose runaways they had
contracted to catch. Samson himself with a "nearly severed left arm" would
have survived only a couple of hours, lying flat on his back, before bleeding to
A myopic sociologist, let alone an alert, angry Maroon, passing
within "inches" of a woman drenched with blood and the sweat of terror and
exhaustion could hardly have failed to pick up her scent and immediate
And when they do run her to earth and chop her to death, we are told that
her blood running down the blades of their machetes was "like the dust-stained
streams of sweat down the arms of hoeing slaves"
At this point, we have to ask ourselves has Dr. Patterson even seen what a
woman's freshly spilled blood on a blade looks like or whether, indeed, he has
ever seen sweat, however stained by dust. Believe me, the two substances are not
to be compared.
It is this kind of absurdity that the Muse tempts the fake novelist to commit.
There are others, of course. The Muse once having gotten disgruntled by a
bungler is not going to let him off with just one example of his failure to put it
In Chapter Two no less than three cocks crow "wearily" "uncertainly" or
"give-up" their morning trumpeting. Life was tough, admittedly, on an
Eighteenth Century Jamaican plantation. But cocks are cocks and whether
they are about to cover slave-owned hens or free-range birds, they crow from the
gonads. It's all one to a good cock whether Augustus Caesar or a black slave
feeds him corn; so long as it's good corn he is going to have his pecker up come
the morning and to hell with the plantation system and metaphors concocted
Forgetting cocks, however, and coming back to what one supposes is the
purpose of what we must call, for want of any other term, a novel: the
They are assembled with an historical sociological exactitude that defeats
criticism. There is, of course, Quasheba (she of the severed arteries and the
magical power to avoid Maroon hunters by inches); there is the English overseer
who came out to make his fortune and who now realises he is just another
degenerate supplier of hog's head of sugar to a culture glad to be rid of him;
there is the young idealistic Scots bookkeeper losing his virginity to a mulatto
wench; there is the wise old healer from Africa who could chat it up with Sartre.
And so on A parade of repertory company players who come bounding onto
stage, whenever Dr. Patterson needs them, exclaiming the Eighteenth Century
equivalent of "Tennis, anyone?"
They are dead, as I suggested above, and they are horrible. The only thing
that saves them from our utter dismissal is that they are ludicrous. In their most
tragic moments, a hoot of disbelieving laughter keeps breaking in.
So why review so worthless a piece of false fiction at such length?
First, for its solemnity, Dr. Patterson, despite the hapless, unhappy laughter
he arouses in us, is a worthy who believes that what he has done deserves our
attention. It is not a serious work, but it is solemn; and solemnity although
boring is well-intentioned and bespeaks a high moral purpose.
Second, for the one or two moments when Dr. Patterson writes as a scholar
and has to be taken seriously.
The dialogue on the absurdity of hope and freedom for example, between the
near-white, born free Jason, and the quadroon carpenter, Benjamin, who has
just bought (or is about to buy) his emancipation is good to point where it
should be required reading for any student of our history.
Similarly, the documentary account of the pre-burial passage of the runaway
Quasheba's coffin through the slave quarters. This is real stuff, and nobody who
writes the history of our people should fail to study this brilliant and evocative
film from our past.
If Dr. Patterson had made a popular essay out of these two segments, we
would have owed him a debt for his industrious research and his controlled
If Dr. Patterson would only concede that such insights into our past are what
he does best, and leave fiction to people like Wilson Harris, Vidia Naipaul and
George Lamming, both West Indian literature and West Indian sociology, would
be better served.
Seven Jamaican Poets Ed. Mervyn Morris, Bolivar Press, Jamaica, 60 pps.
When considering a fairly new set of writings (or a comparatively short period
of literature) often one tends to feel that the latest offerings will prove more
worthwhile than the earlier. Younger poets, for example, are considered more
advanced in style or approach than those of older vintage, though one knows
this is not necessarily the case. In this anthology, Seven Jamaican Poets, one is
tempted to follow this pattern of thinking. Anthony McNeill and Dennis Scott
certainly are younger men to watch, for their poetry already has the quality that
compels attention, and they are newcomers when placed alongside the brothers
McFarlane and A.L. Hendriks.
Dennis Scott's Journey is a poem that some will read with pleasure, carefully
ignoring all the nuances of meaning. The language is beautiful and like The Songs
of Solomon may not be erotic to the innocent, but it is a sophisticated 20th.
century love poem that any poet in English might be proud to have written.
Other poems like Open show a self-analysis that proves interesting and not
purely a preoccupation with self. There is a compassion so often lacking in
mid-20th. century art in The Dumb-School Teacher.
Anthony McNeill's variety of themes in the few poems selected for this
anthology suggests a breadth of vision that many an older man might envy. Rum
Lullaby about a little girl trying to fall asleep while adults downstairs drink and
converse is miles away from Saint Ras, but both figures are encapsuled in short
poems that economically paint a detailed picture.
On reading the work of A.L. Hendriks, it is obvious that he is very much a
contemporary writer, though he may not be as preoccupied with aspects of life
that are late developments. Witness Au Bord de la Mer, Rising Tide and
Crabwise. The sea has always been there with its mystery and music. Crabs,
however, have seldom if ever before been considered subjects for poetic wonder
and notice. Indeed, as a Caribbean poet, A.L. Hendriks tends to consider our
landscape as important subject matter, when other poets concentrate on new
social phenomena. He is aware of the human emotional condition in its many
aspects, however, but there is a timelessness in his themes as in Four Views of
Time and Place that may seem reactionary to those who think that "sufferers"
are the only appropriate or relevant material for notice in our Brave New
Caribbean. His poetic vocabulary also refutes the possible complaint that he is
The brothers McFarlane, Basil and R.L.C., are different types of poets. At
one time it might have been said that R.L.C. was the more traditional, following
in the path of British poets of an earlier era. Interestingly, time has seemed to
bring his once avant garde brother nearer in style to the one who eschewed
fashionable free verse of the 40's and 50's. Fleet's In is nearer to the bone of
present-day Jamaican reality than Basil McFarlane's Arawak Prologue and
Afternoon Elegy, but The Caterpillar Shears the Leaf is like the poetry one
recalls from work published years ago. (One does not suggest, incidentally, that
reference to the history of this region is blameworthy).
Edward Baugh's poetry is sober, though lyric. The word "cerebral" in certain
circles is almost a bad word, but it could be used as full praise for much of
Edward Baugh's work as shown in this book. A poem with the folksy title
"There is a Brown Girl in the Ring" does not have that quality one would
associate with the ring-game tune many Jamaican children still play. Perhaps it is
Dr. Baugh's sense of humour at work that with such a title he writes a more
subtle lyric than would be expected an "allegory of meanings" as he says
when describing his subject. His short gloss to a possible interpretation of
Hamlet in I am very Proud, Revengeful, Ambitious suggests more than a gift for
words and rhythm as has been the case with many West Indian poets.
Small-Town Story tells very much about Caribbean life for those who wish to
Finally, in this short review of Seven Jamaican Poets one comes to Mervyn
Morris, the editor of the anthology. It must have been difficult for him to
choose which of his poems to include. Should they be those he liked best, or
those that had aroused most comment? Or should they be his newest at the
time? One sees here, as often in his poetry, a sardonic view of life, a look at
things (even himself) from the sidelines. One hesitates to suggest that much of a
writer's work is autobiographical, though clearly personal experience helps an
observer of the objective and an explorer into the subjective to be more truthful
and believable. Family Pictures is a vignette of relationships that can tease the
reader who may want to know more about this poet.
But Mervyn Morris observes the world outside, as in Love Story, and like
many Caribbean writers is concerned with the sea and those who work on it.
One is sorry that, as editor of the anthology, he did not think it discreet,
perhaps, to include more of his own work. We must "accept the offered
peep-hole in the mind" that this poet has allowed us in this volume, hoping that
soon we may have an entire collection of poems devoted to his own poetry.
HUGH P. MORRISON
On The Coast, Wayne Brown, Andre Deutsch, 1972
Mr. Eric Roach, in his review of Wayne Brown's first volume of verse, On The
Coast, has sought to simplify all our labours. He has reduced West Indian poetry
to a simplistic fight between the "tribe boys", as he calls them, "rapping to the
brothers and sisters about tribal dispossession and the beauty of blackness" and
the "Afro-saxons", those, he would suggest, essentially unconcerned, art-for-art's
sake effetes. In the latter category, Mr. Roach places Brown, having accused him
of a lack of commitment and irresponsibility. He says that after "searching
diligently for some comment on our bewildered times, on our baffled impotent
rage, or self mockery of our indigent condition all the poet offers us is idylls
of the sea and highly intellectualised glimpses of his personal experiences here
and there about the face of the earth." Mr. Roach has made the basic mistake of
writing a review without having properly read the book that he is reviewing.
Indeed, his simple dichotomising of West Indian poetry would also tend to
suggest that he has not understood West Indian poetry at all, let alone Brown's
On The Coast, but I will concern myself here solely with the latter's poetry.
It is possible to see the poems of On The Coast as a series of interconnecting
links whose motifs, images and issues form a complete whole. The themes of the
poems shade into each other to suggest and evoke, as a whole, Wayne Brown's
sense of our West Indian reality, with its losses and estrangement, and
paradoxically with its fulfilments. But I shall concentrate not on the overall
structure of the work, but on a few of Brown's poems, and show how these, far
from reflecting an irresponsible poet with nothing to offer us, display Brown's
very firm sense of commitment. For his poetry is a profound and honest attempt
to come to terms with, to appreciate and understand the major issues of the
modern West Indies. The poet's essential honesty, his commitment to his craft as
both a raid on the inarticulate and as a quest for truth, means that he must meet
the complexities of his environment, his heritage, head on, not with the quick
formulations and easy answers of the politician or prophet, but with the
integrity and responsibility of the artist.
In a poem such as 'Vampire', we see the dual pull that acts upon the poet's
consciousness and suggests the form of the poem. This is a poem about Black
Power, about the need to break away from the persistent grip of colonialism,
about the need to heave free from the "white moon" In the poem, the poet
acknowledges our need for revenge, which revenge is in itself a kind of
It wakes, clammy, from its bed of hairs
And thirsty. And turns
On its dream of blood
With a distended limp.
But this need for blood, whilst it awakens in the poet a feeling of revulsion and
And blinded by thirst the vampire goes,
A bloodclot in darkness, hurtling -
is balanced by the poet's celebration of the life force that is generated by the
And the night was a cascade of lovers,
And the wind was the voice of the tribe, crying
'0 give him back to the graceful dark!
0 let him belong!'
Finally, the poem's conclusion bodies out the terrifying ambiguity of our
predicament, of the poet's necessarily double-sided vision:
How strange and bright and terrible is
The uninhabitable landscape that swims clear!
For the poet therefore, there can be no easy answers. His integrity demands a
recognition of all sides of the question, for the ex-colonised, ex-slave cannot
wipe out the past and present suffering simply by a glib blackening of the soul.
He cannot accept, like Noah in his numbness, the easy solutions and the basic
dishonesty of those with their lies, their "promise of fruit, of / Resolution and
change." Part I of 'Aquarium', 'Devilfish', could be seen as the poet's reaction to
our post-Independence utopia. All Independence has done, he suggests, is to
change the oppressors. It is now the Black rulers who have fooled us with their
dreams of salvation, of massa day done, and are now "on us, the sea's /
lumpen-proletariat" The poem suggests that we can no longer rely on the almost
ecstatic, self-satisfied rhetoric of complaint with which the poem begins. We are
faced now with a new nightmare which hurls it / self into our shattering
The poet must therefore face the realities of our situation. He can neither
accept the easy answers of those dazed with relief, nor can he simply turn away
into his 'private' universe, like those who:
turn on all lights, you may turn to T.V
You may pray in your pillow, 'Shall it be war?'
You may ask of the woman, 'How shall I plead?'
You may cry, 'Lift me mother!'
Nor can the poet retreat into a world of negation and pessimism. If he cannot
offer a ready solution for our sense of loss and emptiness, the emptiness of the
" pit that goes on widening / Itself, and taking slow hold of / All that you
say you own." his poetry is nevertheless a series of approaches towards a
solution based on understanding and stabalizations,
to probe the world below,
to find a foothold there.
Brown's awareness of his limitations, his awareness of the need to be forever
seeking out a new approach until he has found the most fruitful and rewarding
one, is one of the poet's central concerns, and is epitomized in the structure of
the title poem, 'On The Coast' Here, the first and second stanzas try to balance,
and in the third stanza, accommodate his different approaches, two different
aspects of the poet's sensibility. On the one hand the poet takes his mood from
his surroundings, and on the other, the surroundings take their mood from the
poet, and it is as though the poet is suggesting that our most constructive
awareness lies not so much in the conclusions of our appraisals, but in the very
act of appraising.
Moreover, Brown's most positive affirmation is apparent in his identification
with the folk. 'Devilfish' ends with the image of a fisherman,
riding a story-book calm,
whistles for luck as he sends his lure down.
Although the rhythm of this line would suggest that Brown sees the fisherman as
doomed because of his complacency, this image, which also suggests a feeling of
hopefulness and calm, forms a recurring motif in the orchestration of On The
Coast. In 'The Tourist', for example, there is the image of the parrot fish whose
"purpose", albeit "dim", "was to swim / as usual through blue air, in silence,
like the sun." Similarly, 'Monos' ends with the quiet fish / opening and
closing useless jaws." It is in these images, in the gesture which, up to a point
like his 'approach', "may be fruitless, but is made" ('The Witness') that the poet
radiates his hope. Brown is suggesting not so much that our salvation lies solely
with the folk, who are doomed by their own complacency, but that there is in
the folk an approach to life, an essential quality of being whose richness of
integration with the life forces is such that it transcends whilst it accommodates
our suffering and our loss. In an interview with Basil McFarlane, Brown says
that, "when I was in the countryside I always felt that I was in the grip of real
forces, and even the people, the fishermen, were themselves in the silence of real
things" His poetry suggests that the essential approach, the realization of our
identity, perhaps lies not in the rage of the vampire "blinded by thirst", but in
the existential awareness of our endurance and being; in the "I am of:
I am the horse that has killed its owner.
I am the flesh in the dark.
His poetry arrives at this calm not without tension. He has written that the
islands' most dramatic point, their focus, is the coast. There we find, he says,
"the perpetual tension between sea and land." Were Mr. Roach to reread On The
Coast, he would realize that far from offering us simply "idylls of the sea",
Wayne Brown's poetry offers us this tension; a tension that is inherent in the
poet's involvement with and responsibility to his pays natal.
LEE S.B. JOHNSON
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