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Front Cover 1
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Table of Contents
Editor's note on contributors
VOL. 19, No. 3 SEPTEMBER, 1973
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
6 Portrait of a Jamaican Healer: African Medical Lore in the Caribbean.
20 West Indian Cricket Part II an Aspect of Creolization.
M. St. Pierre.
36 The Place of Voodoo in the Social Structure of Haiti.
51 Problems of Identity for the Black Man in the Caribbean.
Rene dePestre (trans. G. Irish).
62 Social Structure, Values and Business Policy in the Caribbean.
77 Time in European and African Philosophy A Comparison.
86 Epitaph (Poem)
87 "A view of West Africa"
Owu in Yoruba History Magobunje & Omer-Cooper
Tiv Religion R. M. Downes
91 "Perspectives of Blackness" -
Black Images Wilfred Cartey.
Samuel Omo Asein.
95 Voyage in the Dark Jean Rhys
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, 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.
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, U.W.I., Mona.
Patricia Williams, Department of Extra-Mural Studies, U.W.I., Mona,
Jamaica. (Assoc. Editor).
All correspondence should be addressed to:
Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.
We invite readers to submit manuscripts on recommended subjects
which they would like to see discussed in CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY.
Articles of Caribbean relevancy will be gratefully received.
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Subscription orders may be forwarded to the Editor or to the Resident
Tutor at the University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by this
EDITOR'S NOTE ON CONTRIBUTORS
LEONARD BARRETT a Jamaican, is a Professor at the Department of
Religion at Temple University in Philadelphia, U.S.A. This paper was
presented at the African Studies Association Conference in November 1972
MAURICE ST. PIERRE lectures in Sociology at the U.W.I. Mona Campus,
and researches topical Caribbean interests.
FR. MICHAEL LAGUERRE a native Haitian Jesuit Priest, is instructor in
Anthropology and Research Associate at the Chicago Centre for Black
RENE DEPESTRE Haitian born, Marxist writer now lives in Cuba is
GEORGE IRISH Resident Tutor and Hispanic Literature scholar, working
FRED NUNES a Jamaican Sociologist, lectures in Management Studies at
U.W.I. Mona. In 1972 he read Industrial Relations at University of Western
EARL McKENZIE is a Jamaican graduate student of Philosophy and
Creative Writing at Columbia University, New York.
NANCY CASEY writes from graduate studies in English at the Department
of English at Central University, Michigan.
SAMUEL OMO ASEIN lectures in English at University of Ife, Nigeria, and
was guest speaker at the 1971 ACLALS Conference at U.W.I., Mona.
MAUREEN WARNER-LEWIS lectures in English at U.W.I., Mona and re-
searches West African linguistic and cultural survivals in Trinidad. She is a
leading member of the African Studies Association of the West Indies
RAWLE GIBBONS is a young Trinidadian poet, actor and member of the
Creative Arts Centre Management Committee representing the student
body at UWI, Mona in 1973. His poetry and short stories have appeared
in "Kallaloo" and other recent W. I. journals.
This issue continues with the theme of creolization which was in-
troduced in the previous one (Vol. 19 No. 2). If the emphasis appears to be
on the struggle of the African Presence to assert validity as well as to
demonstrate its inherent cogency in giving directions to new forms and
styles of life in the Caribbean, it is because this Presence has done more to
shape Plantation American life than history has been allowed to admit.
Hopefully, this issue, along with the one immediately preceding it, will assist
the reader to understand better the inner dynamics of a society that must
consciously or otherwise forge for itself its own frame of reference out of
the unruly mass of experience over time and in quite unique circumstances.
This has been done and continues to be done through every possible
means at the command of Caribbean peoples and this issue addresses itself
to some of these means. The process naturally takes on its own intrinsic
dimensions and enriches the texture and meaning of Caribbean life in quite
unprecedented ways. Maurice St. Pierre concludes his examination of the
force of the game of cricket in the process. "The game has succeeded", he
asserts,"in removing the ascriptive basis (e.g. on colour and race) for ranking
individuals in society and for team selection and replacing it with an
achievement oriented basis (e.g. merit and ability)"
Literature has long served as an effective instrument for plumbing
deeply into Caribbean dimensions. But Wilfred Cartey in his "Black
Images" is understood by Samuel Asein who reviews him in this issue,
to be arguing that compared with the United States of America, "in the
English-speaking Caribbean, the theme of the Negro, the theme of the
Black man, has not yet become part of the poetry in any corporate sense"
The reviewer, an African, volunteers the explanation that "recognition of
many groups in the West Indies (and) the lack of unity that results, may
explain the diffuse nature of Negro poetry here" As it happens, Rawle
Gibbon's poem "Epitaph" selected for this issue cannot be said to be
thematically ethnocentric or dutifully Afro-centric though its rhythmic
flow and tonal pitch could with justice be described as unmistakably
Caribbean. And Jean Rhys' book, Voyage in the Dark: provides a point
of departure for a review article on the alienation of a Creole woman
by Nancy Casey who focuses on the novel's telling point, which is that no
one escapes the powerful forces of transformation in a transplanted West
Indian society. The protagonist, Anna, who is of English descent but born
in the island of Dominica, is chided for talking and behaving "like a nigger"
What is traditionally the anguished question for the Black in the Caribbean
here becomes the anguished question for a West Indian-born White in
But it is R6n6 Depestre who brings the reader back to the more com-
pelling constituency of Caribbean concern in a piece translated from the
Spanish by J. George Irish and entitled "Problems of Identity for the
Black Man in Caribbean Literatures" He asks "in what way will the black
man of the Caribbean come to terms with himself, convert himself to what
he is, (and) find the true self in society and in history"?
Clearly he must do it through every means open to him. Religion and
secular belief-systems have been among the most spectacular manifestations
of the process, both in terms of its results and in terms of the methods
whereby such results are achieved. "The Place of Voodoo in the Social
Structure of Haiti" by Michael LaGuerre, and Leonard Barrett's "Portrait
of a Jamaican Healer" are examples of the former, while Earle McKenzie's
examination of the African and European conceptions of Time (with a
Caribbean Postscript) is likely to prompt discussion on aspects of philosophy
that are of increasing significance to Caribbean perspectives. In her reviews
of Owu in Yoruba History and Tiv Religion published by Ibadan Uni-
versity Press, Maureen Warner-Lewis elaborates in cross-cultural terms on
the value which the study of African religious forms and belief-systems
have for the Caribbean.
It is left to Fred Nunes to demonstrate that nothing escapes the im-
peratives of this complex process of transformation through adjustments,
rejection, affirmation and innovation. The realm of Caribbean business is
discussed by Mr. Nunes in the article "Social Structure, Values & Carib-
bean Business Policy"; and he does it with full cognizance of the import-
ance of such culture-variables as the society's "language, its family structure,
the way it measures time, its religion, the functions performed by each sex,
its political system and so on"
The fields of exploration are therefore inexhaustible as long as the
process continues. And the process is continuing.
THE PORTRAIT OF A JAMAICAN HEALER:
African Medical Lore in the Caribbean
Few upper-class Jamaicans will admit that the island still has its roots in
ancestral Africa. This stems mainly from what Katrin Norris calls "lack of
identity." The average citizen, with respect to his cultural roots, is as
emotionally unstable as the waves of the Caribbean that wash the shore of this
little island. This situation is not wholly his own making; it stems more from
the problems of acculturation. Since the slave emancipation, every effort has
been expended by missionaries and other Europeans to rid the Jamaican of his
African ancestry, so that, for instance, he grows up studying the history of
England, and little of himself, and his history. The islander, seeks with all his
mental energy to learn 'good' English, yet he finds it totally impossible to
communicate with 90 percent of the people without his native language, Creole.
Thus the member of the Jamaican elite knows little of his real African tradition
and consequently cares little about it.
However, the mass of Jamaicans who have had little or no formal education
remains close to the lore of the African forebears. Although the Jamaican
peasant has had little contact with Africa since his ancestors arrived on the
island, his world-view is still nurtured by the culture which was brought to the
island with the slaves. In spite of the fact that tribal origin has most often been
forgotten, African religious beliefs, speech patterns, family life, personal
habits, and dress style persist. Even the elites, who emulate the English way of
life to a fault, are not quite able to rid themselves of their African cultural roots.
For instance, the veneer of their adopted culture generally is no protection to
them in times of psychic distress; in such crises they generally return to seek
the advice of the representatives of their African ancestry, the ancestry they
sought so eagerly to deny.
One of the important areas of African retention in Jamaica and the
Caribbean as a whole is that of folk medicine. The descendants of the African
medical practitioners the medicine men have never lost their influence
over the Jamaican mind. Herbert G. DeLisser, a native of Jamaica and
probably the first to clearly distinguish the function of the legitimate African
priest from the work of the sorcerer within the Jamaican slave system, wrote:
Both witches and wizards, priests and priestesses, were brought
to Jamaica in the days of the slave trade, and the slaves recognized
the distinction between the former and the latter. Even the
masters saw that the two classes were not identical,... (Herbert G.
DeLisser, 1913, 108).
Their influence touches the highest stratum of the society. There are few
Jamaican elites now alive who can truthfully say that their lives have never
been affected in some way by this type of healer. A particular individual might
not have had personal contact with them, but if pressed hard enough he
generally admits that either his parents or some of his relatives have been
cured or helped in some way by an African practitioner. The writer recalls
quite vividly a medical doctor and graduate of a prestigious British university,
who, on learning of the author's plan to study the healer, Mother Rita, declared
with all sincerity "the woman saved my life!" He then proceeded to tell the
story. As a small boy his older sister (age five) died of vomiting sickness and
following her death, he too came down with the illness. The family became
greatly alarmed because all the professional treatment that was available had
not saved his sister's life. His father, a school teacher and a catechist in the
mission church, could not openly associate himself with the folk specialists in
the community, but his maternal uncle was a believer in the folk tradition and
his mother was also very sympathetic to them. This uncle prevailed upon the
father to consult Mother Rita. He finally decided, and under much secrecy he
went for consultation. One bottle of medicine was all that was necessary. The
doctor in question is convinced that it was through the work of this folk healer
that his life was saved. Numerous stories of this type could be told among
Jamaican elites but few are as honest as the doctor in acknowledging these
This paper will discuss the history of one of these healers in the Jamaican
setting, her personality, healing techniques and influence in the folk tradition of
Jamaica. There is at present, a growing interest in the techniques of primitive
medicine. Some of the important contributions in this field can be found in the
writings of Ervin H. Acherknecht Bulletin of the History of Medicine X1,
1942 (503-21); also in the recent volume edited by John Middleton, Magic,
Witchcraft and Curing, American Museum Source Book in Anthropology,
1967; and Victor Turner's Lunda Medicine and the Treatment of Disease,
Rodes-Livingstone Museum Occasional Papers, No. 15, (1964) and by the
same author A. Ndembu Doctor in Practice, 1964. Monographs have appeared
from time to time discussing aspects of Caribbean healing lore but few have
given details about the healers themselves. Among the most notable of these
are Martha Beckwith's Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaican Folk Life,
1929; John J. Williams Psychic Phenomena of Jamaica, 1934; and George E.
Simpson "Jamaican Revivalist Cults", Social and Economic Studies, No. 5,
pp. 321-442, (1956).
THE HISTORIC SETTING:
Driving south of Kingston on the main highway which leads through
Spanish Town, (the old capital of Jamaica), through May Pen and Mandeville,
one will before long arrive at the great mountain divide overlooking the Pedro
Plains. The area, about 30 sq. miles, includes the towns of Santa Cruz and Black
River. At the foot of this mountain is the large Alpart Aluminum factory; to the
south is Blakes Pen, the community in which one of the oldest balmyards in
Jamaica is to be found. (A balmyard is a healing centre specializing in herbal
medicine, a place where the sick are bathed in herbal mixtures.)
MAMMY FORBES, THE HEALER
The Blakes Pen balmyard is of special significance in this area because it
has been in continuous operation for over one hundred years under the
leadership of two women: Mammie Forbes and her daughter, Mother Rita.
Although this paper is concerned mainly with the daughter, Mother Rita, it will
be useful to say a few words about the founder, Mammie Forbes. (As far as this
writer knows only Martha Beckwith of Vassar has mentioned her in print
(Beckwith: 1929, 171-173), and it was she who published one of the only known
photographs of her).
The mother of Mammie Forbes was an African slave who is said to have
been an expert in bush remedies, but seems to have given up her practice when
she was converted to Christianity in the 1860 Revival. In 1871, merely a
generation after the emancipation and ten years after the Great Evangelical
Revival in Jamaica, her daughter, the young woman who later was to be known
to thousands as "Mammie Forbes" received her call to heal the sick. She was a
member of the local Anglican Church, but like many Jamaicans in her time, she
became dissatisfied with the coldness of its ritual. One night an angel appeared
to her holding a bundle of herbs and commanded her to 'rise up and heal the
people.' She left her husband's house and was led by the angel to a cave in the
bush not far from her home, where she spent seven days in fasting. During
these days of seclusion, many of the herbs that were to be her trademark were
revealed to her. Her daughter recalled that each day when her husband visited
her, there would be a new pile of weeds in the cave. During this time she
amassed 77 different weeds, at the same time acquiring knowledge of their
medical properties. Along with the knowledge of these weeds, the ritual
accompanying her future work was also revealed. She was told to build a
tabernacle with certain dimensions; she was also told what kind of dress to
wear, and the proper ritual colours, and the right time of day for healing. The
rituals were to be performed barefooted. Even the cost of her service was
revealed to her by the angel. (At the beginning it was three cents per person.)
After returning from her wilderness experience, and with the help of her
husband, she carried out all she was commanded to do. The angel later gave her
instructions to dig a large pool in the balmyard, ten square feet wide and five
feet deep from which a healing fountain would rise. This fountain was to be dug
without metal tools, only by the hands of women. One hundred years later at the
time of this writing, the excavation is there but no fountain has yet appeared.
The present mother explained that the water has never appeared because of the
breaking of a taboo by her mother, but she expects it to appear at any time.
Mammie Forbes performed the work of healing for 59 years. She died in
1930. She was highly respected and is still remembered by the people of St.
Elizabeth and Manchester. The work continues to prosper in the hands of her
daughter, Mother Rita Adams.
Mother Rita is at present 87 years of age and like her mother, she is tall and
stout. Her complexion is fairly light and she has an hypnotic gaze and a
dominant personality. She has been married but lost her husband some 15 years
ago. They had three children: two girls and one boy. Mother Rita was one of
several children born of Mammie Forbes, but she alone followed her mother's
Her role as a child was that of a 'medium.' During her early childhood she
received dreams and visions which she related to her mother. She reported that
during her elementary school days she would become possessed by the spirits
and had to be sent home, returning to school as she put it only 'when the spirit
was through with me'. As a child, she received the vision of the exact year her
mother would die and the exact place where she should be buried. Her mother
accepted the vision calmly and asked her to mark the spot with a stone.
Mammie Forbes is buried at that very spot. Mother Rita related that from
childhood she was dedicated to the work of the Lord. Being a sickly child from
birth her mother promised God that if her daughter was healed, Rita was to be
dedicated to His service. So as a promised child she had no other choice.
While working as her mother's medium, a husband was picked for her by
her mother, but as she was so dedicated to spiritual things, she was not
interested in marriage'. Nevertheless she finally gave in and became the wife
of Mr. Adams who later assumed the role of her faithful co-worker in the
balmyard. She has continued her mother'S work for 41 years and has not yet
To better understand the work of the Jamaican healer let us see the setting
of the balmyard.
The Blakes Pen Balmyard is located on a 17 acre plot of land owned by
Mother Rita. This area, Pedro Plain, is mostly dry, consisting of red laterite
soil with a high content of bauxite mixture heavily eroded in spots leaving bare
rocks. Unlike many other yards, there is no enclosure. One enters the yard by
a rocky path which leads up a small incline to a plateau. Half way up the hill is a
square concrete terrace with four poles, one at each corner, each bearing a red,
white and blue flag. This symbolize the four winds of the earth. The writer later
discovered that this square was of important ritual significance as will be
discussed later. About fifty yards from the ritual square one enters the
balmyard through what looks like a Japanese Torii Gate. Beyond this entrance
is the compound which includes the home of Mother Rita, a chapel and a
kitchen; two balming huts, one for men, the other for women; the fountain in
which there is no water, and two seal grounds, each with a flag pole used for
working' or dancing in the spirit. The house is made of concrete blocks,
consisting of a verandah on which waiting patients sit; a living room which
serves as a Consulting room for Mother Rita and her patients, and two
bedrooms. The Chapel is also made of concrete and holds about 100 people. It
consists of wooden benches without backs, a table with various ritual items, a
platform on which a raised lectern sits for preaching. Three drums hang from
the side of the tabernacle's wall, one bass and two trebles. The chapel may be
entered by anyone of three doors, one to the south, one to the east and one to the
west. The two 'power seals' with their poles are located at the entrances of the
southern and eastern doors.
A Day at the Balmyard:
The founder of Blakes Pen Balmyard was told by the angel that worship
was to occur each day at 5 a.m., 12 mid-day and 5 p.m. Although this pattern
continues, the services are not now attended by many converts. However, a few
of the old faithfuls still carry out this pattern of worship but with diminished
fervour. The main religious exercises now take place on Monday which is a day
of feasting, and Sunday, a day of worship and healing. Along with this pattern is
the private consultation and balming which takes place every day.
A fasting service at the Balmyard is conducted on Wednesdays during the
hours from 5 a.m. to 12 noon. From 9 a.m., members begin to gather at the
yard' from neighboring districts. Some walk as far as 15 miles. About 9:30,
the drummers enter the chapel and begin to play on their drums which serve as
church bells calling the faithful to worship. At 9:50 Mother Rita appears at the
entrance of her house dressed in white. White is the favourite colour for this
ritual. On this occasion, eight of her faithful members accompanied her from
her house to the chapel. As she enters the eastern door, the congregation stands
and recites the Lord's Prayer. She mounts the podium, recites a short prayer
and sits down. Three members: two women and a man sit in front of the podium
facing the congregation. After the singing of several songs, Mother Rita takes
her place at the pulpit and exhorts the members to 'watchfulness' Then follows
a communion service of bread and water. (It was explained by her that the
Nominal churches use wine in communion but the Revivalists use water.) The
communion service is based on the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer of the
Church of England. Precisely at 12 noon, the mother declares, "We break our
fast in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." She then drinks
water from a cup. One of the old converts said to be 94 years of age, takes a cup
of water and pours some out at each of the three entrances, making a wide turn
counterclockwise as she pours the remainder of the water at the altar, thus
marking out the four winds of the earth. This is also a sign of purification. The
formal service now ends, the converts prepare to leave the tabernacle to 'work'
or dance on the 'seal ground'. After the closing prayer and benediction, Mother
Rita leads the congregation, accompanied with singing and drumming and all
circle the flagpole immediately in front of her house. She moves
counterclockwise until all the members form a circle, then the 'travailing'
begins. The words 'travailing', 'working', 'trumping', and 'dancing', all carry
the same meaning. They refer to the peculiar ritual found in Pukumina and
Revivalist cults where the members shuffle in a circle counterclockwise,
bending forward and backward from head to waist, chopping the air with both
hands while at the same time emitting a hissing or grunting sound. The sound is
the result of inhaling and exhaling the air with a kind of explosion of the lips. A
leader stands in the circle of the ring and acts as prompter; he responds to the
circling band with the flagging of his hands, moving around the circle. This
leader of the dance is sometimes called the 'warrior' shepherd and, as the name
implies, he, and the members are literally at war with the evil spirits that are
present. The more vigorous the 'travailing' the greater will be the success in
healing the sick.
Those members who fall in spirit possession prophesy and in this peculiar
state, their words are carefully heeded by the spectators. They may warn of
still-births, poisonings, imminent earthquakes, hurricanes or sudden deaths by
witchcraft. The travailing develops an atmosphere of tension which later
abates in the process of consultation and balming designed to protect the
petitioners from the evils that have been thus revealed. 'Trumping' may
continue for hours depending on the dimension of the evil influences discovered
during possession. Some members may remain under possession for a day and
a night. This situation required that some of the members assist those
possessed all day or all night to protect them from the injury which could well
result from something such as a fall in their unconscious state.
The travailing ritual at Mother Rita's yard was of short duration. It lasted
only an hour and a half. Toward the end of the dance, four members take cups of
water, walk through the 'Torii Gate' out to the square with the four flags, and
throw the water into the square. It was later explained that they had received a
revelation of some kind, and that this ritual was the means by which potential
conflicts were resolved. This water ritual resembles the practice of pouring
libations in African traditional ritual, however there is a basic difference in
attitude. Whereas, African libation is poured directly on a spot in an
atmosphere of reverence, this was done by simply throwing the water in the
direction of the square and then quickly returning to the seal ground. Two of
those who carried the water to the flag square threw it with their backs to the
square. That is, they threw the water over their shoulders. A member explained
this as 'cutting and clearing destruction.'
While these activities are going on, the rest of the members are still at the
'seal' listening to the reading of the scriptures. Some move about under
possession, some are calling on angels, while others speak in unknown tongues.
At the end of the dancing the members march to the eastern pole, encircle it,
read a scripture, make individual turns counterclockwise and re-enter the
chapel for another short ritual which ends the day's formal worship.
Mother Rita does not take part in the 'travailing' Her age does not permit
expending the energy needed for this part of the ritual. However, she does stand
on the verandah, humming the songs and calling out certain phrases to the
'trumping band.' I hear her say, 'throw it out', throw it out of the city', or
'watchman', 'watchman beware' Although not sharing in the dance she is
actually directing it.
Healing in the Balmyard:
Since there were many people awaiting to consult the Mother, she did not
participate in the last part of the formal service. Without changing from her
white dress she sat down in her chair and began her consultation. During the
consultation she was kind enough to invite the author into the room and
provided a chair toward the rear where he could see the healer's face, but only
the backs of the patients. Many of the patients were unaware of the author's
presence. As the patients entered and sat down in front of the healer, she began
her diagnosis in a rather informal manner. There were 15 patients attended to
that afternoon. One young woman from Kingston, a secretary, suffered with a
pain in her stomach. She had gone to several doctors and had taken a series of
X-Ray tests at the University Hospital, but no cure. She was advised to see Mo-
ther Rita. There was another woman from Washington, D C., who had returned
to Jamaica in order to consult the Mother. The rest were from the surrounding
districts of Blakes Pen.
All persons who needed consultation were instructed to take an herbal bath
before meeting Mother. The cost of the bath was fifty cents, paid in silver coins.
The author was allowed to take this bath mainly to observe the procedure. The
bath house was a simple enclosure with a wooden frame covered at the four
sides with corrugated zinc sheets, commonly used as roofing in Jamaica. The
patient entered the enclosure and undressed. A small enamel tub filled with
herbal mixture sat in the center of the enclosure with a stone slab beside it on
which the patient stood. The bath-man appeared and asked that fifty cents in
coin be thrown in the bath. This done, the patient was commended to assume a
squatting position. With a towel in hand, the balmer applied the water mixture
to the patient's back with a 'sponging operation' from the head to the waist,
reciting the 23rd Psalm. The patient then stood and the sponging continued
from the waist down to the heels. The same procedure was done from the face
down to the toes, reciting a new Psalm. Much attention was paid to the back and
thighs of the patient where the balmer administered vigorous blows. After all
the parts of the body had been thoroughly sponged and vigorously slapped, the
balmer made the sign of the cross from the nape of the neck to the waist
crossing at the shoulders in the back, repeating this in the front, but this time
moving the cross from the right shoulder to the toes of the left foot and from the
left shoulder to the toes of the right foot, while repeating "In the name of the
Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning now and ever
shall be world without end. Amen." The incantation is timed to conclude with
the words "world without end" at the toes. The patient is then asked to dry
lightly and is advised not to take a bath for 12 hours, so that the medical
properties of the herbs can be absorbed into the pores.
The Balmer on duty the day the author took his bath, was Mr. Willie Peart.
Willie was 60 years old and has been with Mother Rita for more than five years.
On request, he agreed reluctantly to name as many of the weeds as he could
recall from memory. He was reluctant because this was forbidden information
to an outsider. Some of the weeds mentioned were yellow sanders, cash
marrior, sweet sop bush, sower sop bush, willow bush, Rosemarie weed, Lkka
bush, candle wood, leaf of life, High John the Conqueror, soap bush, ballad
weed, Rickkie Rocher bush, wild cinnamon, semencaontra weed. He explained
to me that some of the weeds revealed to Mother had no name. It was explained
that no roots were used in preparing baths because, as he put it, "the leaf of the
tree is for the healing of the nation."
Once all the weeds and bushes are gathered they are placed in a large pot.
14 gallons of water is boiled down to a consistency of 10 gallons which takes one
hour at high boil. Many of the weeds used must be sought at great distances
from the 'yard'. Special men are engaged in gathering these weeds from as far
as 15 miles away; they bring them to the balmyard early in the morning or
during the night.
A diagnosis may take from 15 minutes to half an hour. The following
observations are examples of Mother Rita's approach in diagnosing a patient's
illness along with the remedy prescribed.
1. A woman of about 50 years of age. The Healer looked steadily into her
face, glancing now and then toward her legs. Then she began to question her at
a rapid rate in the following manner: "How long have you had that pain in your
head? Pain in your joints? Pain on one side of the womb? You feel sickly all
over the body? Feel like you want to die?
(The answers to these questions must also come rapidly because Mother
works in a set rhythm and can become perturbed if there is too much hesitation
on the part of the patient. Also note that she does not ask 'if' there is a pain in the
head. She knows that there is pain. The author has never heard one patient deny
When the questions were concluded, Mother reached for her paper and
pencil or called out to her helper the prescribed weeds. For the above case they
Button wood weed, sweet cup weed, half leaf of aloes, juba bush; boil in 5
pints of water to 5 half pints; mix this with Gilby's wine. Take a half glass daily.
2. A woman from Brompton District, 30 miles away. "Let me see your
tongue. How long have you had pain in the centre of your back? You are weak
all over? Your entire nerve-system is short? You will kill yourself?
The remedy was written down secretly.
3. A woman who came on behalf of her Mother. She brought her Mother's
handkerchief. Mother Rita took it in her hands, concentrated a moment and
"Your mother suffers with pain in both legs. It is her kidneys. She suffers
with a pain in her sinuses; pain in her womb. She has the disposition of
confusion. She has cancer in the womb. I cannot cure her, but I make her feel
Remedy: a bottle of High John the Conqueror's oil. Anoint the hands daily
making the sign of the corss. Sprinkle a little around the room, repeating the
4. Another woman. "You have pain in the back, pain in both feet, itching in
Remedy: one bottle of womb tablets (no brand name); susumber bush,
button weed, sweet cup weed, three leaves of the leaf of life, wild grape bush,
water grape bush, womb weed, three chips of bitchwood. Boil in 9 pints of water
to 9 half pints. Mix with Gilby's wine. Take one half a glass 3 times daily."
5. For sick baby. Semen contra bush, two sprigs of aliba weed, two sprigs of
susumber bush, two sprigs of button weed, two sprigs of blue fever grass. Mix
with brandy, a bottle of Virol compound (a patent medicine with high iron
G. Another child about 7 years old. She felt the child's stomach. Her
diagnosis: The child fell from a tree and dislocated her womb. After much
prompting the child admitted that she fell some 3 weeks before coming. This
was not known to the child's parents.
Remedy: Womb weed, garden bitters, bladder weed, horse bath, button
weed, strong back weed, leaf of life. Boil 7 half-pints of water to 3 half pints.
Also a bottle of Indian Root pills.
7. A man who suffers from insomnia. The Healer questioned him about a
recent court case in which he was involved. She said: "The evil powers are still
with you from that court case."
Remedy: "Buy some black cat incense and burn in the bedroom; this will
clear up the destruction that is following you."
By 4 p.m., the Healer had consulted 15 people, mostly women and children.
She was now tired, and told the rest of the patients to return the following day. A
woman who had waited about 2 hours began to complain that her body was
seriously ill and that she was afraid to leave without attention. The Healer
became slightly annoyed but finally yielded to her plea.
Mother Rita then relaxed a bit and called for food and refreshments. She
also suggested that something be prepared for the author. Despite his mild
objection, a tray of food and soda was brought in, and while eating he began
questioning her about her ability to 'discern' a patient's illness. She stated that
it was much better to demonstrate her ability by diagnosing the author himself.
He welcomed this experiment. Taking her position in her chair, Mother
suggested that the author sit in the patient's chair. She gazed at him, then,
suddenly she pointed to his right leg, saying "you suffer from a pain in that leg.
Sometimes the calf of your leg tightens up. This gives you a pain in the right
groin and pain on the right side of your head. You must pay attention to it or it
could cause trouble later." This diagnosis was remarkably correct. The author
had severely damaged his right leg in a soft-ball game while attending a
conference in Colorado the previous summer. During this period, he performed
his duties only with the support of a pair of crutches. It took six months to heal,
but there was now no sign of limping, only an occasional tightening up of the
muscles which at times proved very painful. During this research trip, the
author had experienced no pain. As a matter of fact he had almost forgotten
about the injury; however, Mother Rita actually touched the very area in which
the muscles tightened on occasion. Also, there were the periodic pains on the
left side of the head. With this demonstration, the author became a believer,
and conviction increased as he tested her clairvoyant ability with other
There is no need to defend the system of folk medicine in this paper. The
literature on this subject is full. Descriptions of primitive medicine and
methods of healing form the subject matter for many anthropological
monographs. This paper attempts only to give a portrait of one of many such
healers in Jamaica, but in this case one who occupies a unique role in Jamaican
history of a hundred years' duration.
Mother Rita, like her Mother before her, is the direct descendant of African
folk healers and her balmyard is the counterpart of traditional healing centres
in Africa today. The author recalls his visit to the Akonnedi Healing Center of
Larteh, Ghana, where he was introduced to the single most important
traditional healer known in the nation, Nana Oparebea, the High Priestess of
this Center. Her influence extends over the population from the former Kwame
Nkrumah to the lowliest peasant of Ghana. Here the author observed the herbs
and their preparation and was informed that 99 different herbs were used in the
baths. Along with healing, the center was a training school for future herbalists,
both men and women. The methods of Nana Oparebea and Mother Rita are so
similar that one is amazed at the purity with which the African tradition
apparently has been retained in Jamaica despite the rigour of slavery.
The literature about Jamaica recorded evidence of the work of the
medicine man early in the period of slavery. They were then called myal people
a name which designates those who work in herbal medicines as opposed to the
obeahman who was the sorcerer. To this day, the two roles are separate though
each is just as influencial today as it was during slavery. The African
techniques of healing have rooted themselves in Jamaican culture to such an
extent that the trained physician is still perceived as secondary to the "Black
doctor" as he is known, especially in rural districts.
A cursory analysis of the influence of these specialists in African Medicine
in Jamaica will close this paper. First, we must realize that the African system
of curing was the only method known to the slaves and their descendants.
(Incidentally, many of the herbs which were familiar in Africa were also to be
found in Jamaica) The healing methods of these doctors consist largely of
herbal medicine administered both internally and externally. They also used
powders, seeds, roots, juices, leaves, and countless other talismans. The
African specialist may make use of massages, needles, bleeding and various
other things, but above all he uses the ritual of incantation. In this way the
Healer and the patient become empathetically involved. He performs the
functions of both a doctor and a pastor. To this day the average Jamaican is
subconsciously afraid of the trained physician and the thought of being cut off
from his friends and relatives in a hospital room is frightful enough for him to
depart this life in haste. Even those of the common people who are reconciled to
the idea that a trained doctor is useful will find more healing virtue in the
doctor's preliminary scrutiny of their bodies, especially in his work with the
stethoscope than in the medicine he prescribes. In many cases the patient will
seek to find out the nature of his illness in order to inform his favourite herbal-
ist. It should be clear, then, that healing to the African as well as their descend-
ants in Jamaica consists not merely in medical treatment but ritual. One with-
out the other is perceived to be useless.
The second reason for the influence of the African method of healing in
Jamaica is due both to the scarcity of trained physicians and the peoples'
perception of them. Until very recently (since the opening of the University of
the West Indies), there were few medical doctors. The few that were available
to the rural peasants were located many miles away from the peasant
communities. It took long hours on horse back and by donkey to reach the office
of a doctor. And to be transported there by motor vehicle was prohibitive in
cost, even if one could be found. On the other hand, many peasants still perceive
the trained doctor to be an elite far removed from their social level, someone
who lacks the sensitivity demanded in order to cure them. His social distance,
his professional language, his opulence and in some cases, his insolence sets
him apart from his humble patients. This perception (though often mistaken as
this writer well knows), is sufficiently strong to create an adverse attitude in
the minds of many a common man. So he generally seeks out the folk healer
with whom he feels at home.
The third factor contributing to the influence of the folk healer in Jamaica
is that he does benefit his patients and in most cases, his medicine is
inexpensive. One reason for his success is the high incidence of psychosomatic
illness in the Jamaican community. Thus a large proportion of the illness are
brought about by stress conditions. The socio-economic conditions for the vast
majority of the country folk keep them almost permanently at subsistence
level. With little hope for a brighter future, and given the pressures of merely
continuing to exist, anxiety mounts and the body becomes susceptible to minor
aches and pains which over a period of time develop into more serious illness.
Therefore the magico-religious functions of the balmyard become a source of
help to people in such conditions. The accessibility of these yards and the
relatively free advice of the specialists are highly suitable to the man who does
not even have respectable apparel to wear to a doctor's office.
This is not to say that it is only the poor who visit the African specialists.
This is far from the truth. The marginal Jamaican elites whose jobs with an
expatriate company are rather tenuous also frequently make use of these
specialists. Here again we can mirror the uncertainty of life in a developing
country. The author has seen many an elite of the "Mercedes-Benzs" type at
these specialists, coming to 'firm-up' his position with the use of certain oil or to
perform some rituals which will give him assurance and confidence in his work.
We may conclude then that the descendants of the traditional African
medicine men have retained an important place in Jamaican society from
slavery to the present. Far from having diminished, the herbalists role has re-
mained extremely important to a large segment of the peasant population and
has at lease effectively touched the majority of the elite. The lack of trained
physicians and the peasants' faith in the herbal-ritual treatment will assure
their influence for generations to come.
SOME AFRICAN RETENTIONS
Some aspects of African retentions in Jamaica:
1. As in Africa, the people in Jamaica believe that sickness is caused by
spiritual forces and they speak of sickness as the thing' Many see sickness as
the intrusion of outside forces brought on either by the breaking of God's will or
the evil work of enemies. Except in the case of death by old age, every human
tragedy is suspect.
2. As in Africa, healing to be effective, must be both herbal and ritual. That
is why the peasant is more interested in what the doctor does with his
stethoscope than he is in his prescribed medicine. The 'balmyard' is the place
where herbs and rites are wed in the traditional African pattern.
3. As in many areas of West Africa, water has important healing values.
The balm in herbal juices and the promised fountain in the balmyard are
examples of the power of water. In Jamaica, revelation of healing streams
form a common part of the folk culture.
4. Ritual colors are important in African traditional religion. Victor Turner
deals extensively with this aspect of color classification in African ritual in his
book The Forest of Symbols. Turner shows that certain colors have
certain associations, red for instance is connected with initiation, white with
purity and black with death. In the Jamaican context not much has been done
in color analysis; but a wide field is there to be explored. For instance there
seem to be an important connection between African color classification and
color use in the Jamaican balmyard. White as we have seen is used in fasting
rituals; red is a symbol of life and also danger. Black is the predominant color
for death, both in Jamaican folk religion and in Haitian Voodoo. The other color
which dominates the religious ritual of Jamaica is blue, but it seems to be
related to white and symbolizes energy, strength and courage. A detailed study
in the framework of binary opposition may yet yield some important religious
insights in these color classification in Jamaica.
5. An important African retention of ritual customs is in the concept of left
and right. In most West African societies the left hand is considered impure.
The right hand is considered pure; thus it is bad manners to give something
to a person with the left hand.
This concept finds expression in religious ritual by the direction of all
movement to the right. In Jamaican folk ritual counter-clockwise movement
expresses this concept. One cult leader explained that, to clear pollution and
evil, one must move from left to right. In the religious dance, one moves
counter-clockwise to 'clear up' the evil in the balmyard and thus lift the evil
from the patients.
6. As is the case in African rituals, possession is the high point of religious
ceremonies in Jamaica. It is the sign that the gods and spirits are present. It is
the medium of revelation and also serves a cathartic function for the one who is
possessed. The state of possession is highly desirable in the balmyard and
serves as an important sign of contact with the spirit world.
7. The use of the drums needs no elaboration in African religious ritual. And
it should be sufficient to say that a balmyard in Jamaica without its drums and
drummers would be rare indeed. Even if there is no accomplished drummer,
the rituals without the drum would seem ineffective.
8. Dreams and visions have important roles in the healing lore of Jamaican
cults as they have in Africa. The two healers discussed in this paper were
greatly influenced by dreams and visions. The founder of the balmyard
received her call in a dream. Her successor began to receive dreams even as a
child and she related many more recent dreams to the author. On the basis of
the importance placed on dreams it is undoubtedly true that the most important
decision-making process in cult movements in Jamaica is the dream or the
This list of African retentions could go on and on but the above seems
sufficient for our purposes in this short paper.
1. Acherknecht, E. H. "Problems of Primitive Medicine" Bulletin of the History
of Medicine XI p. 603 521, 1942.
2. .. "Natural Diseases and Rational Treatment in Primitive
Medicine," Bulletin of the History of Medicine XIX (No. 5), 1942.
3. Asprey, G. F., and Thornton, Phyllis "Medicinal Plants of Jamaica," The West
Indian Medical Journal University of the West Indies, pp. 2 4, 1953.
4. Beaubrun, Michael "Psychiatric Education for the Caribbean". The West Indian
Medical Journal, University of the West Indies, Vol. XV, No. 1, pp. 52 62,
5. Beckwith, Martha Warren, Black Roadways (North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Uni-
versity of North Carolina Press), 1923.
6. DeLisser, H. G., Twentieth Century Jamaica, Kingston, 1913.
7. Evans-Pritchard, E., Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azald,. (London:
Oxford University Press), 1937.
8. Hughes, C. C., "Hygiene and Public Health in Non-Literate Societies, Paper
presented at the Conference on Medicine and Anthropology at Arden House,
Harriman, New York, 1961.
9. Lessa, W. A. and Vogt, E. Z., eds. Reader in Comparative Religion (Evanston:
Row, Peterson and Company), 1958.
10. Mbiti, John S. African Religions and Philosophy (New York: Frederick Praeger),
11. Rivers, W. H. R., Medicine, Magic and Relition (London, Oxford University Press),
12. St. John, Sir Spencer, Haiti and the Black Republic, London: Smith Elder
and Co., 1884.
13. Simpson, George Eaton: Religious Cults of the Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica
and Haiti, Puerto Rico; Institute of Caribbean Studies, 1970.
14. Turner, V. W. "Lunda Rites and Ceremonies" (Occasional part of the Rhodes-
Livingstone Museum N.S.) No. 10. Livingstone Zambia, 1953.
15. ... 'Ndemba Divination: The Symbolism and Techniques (Rhodes
Livingston Papers, No. 11) Manchester University 1961.
16. The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndemba Ritual (New York,
Cornell University Press.
WEST INDIAN CRICKET
PART II AN ASPECT OF CREOLIZATION
Cricket and the West Indian Cricketer
For the individual player in the West Indies, excellence at cricket promises
now, as it has never done before, an education, upward social mobility,
economic security and a chance to do "his own t'ing". However, it also reduces
the player's anonymity considerably and excellence at cricket carries with it,
its own congeries of disadvantages.
It is universally acknowledged that all learning does not come out of a
book; one learns a considerable amount by just travelling. The West Indian test
cricketer today gets the opportunity to visit every continent (for example,
teams of West Indian cricketers have gone to Africa, India and the United
States of America) and therefore gets the opportunity also to observe different
cultures in different societies. Where he does not go as a member of an official
test team, he may go as a member of an unofficial test team or even as an
In days gone by, West Indian teams visited most often England. Before
1951, the only tour made to Australia was in 1931-32. Since then West Indian
cricket teams have visited Australia and New Zealand on no less than three
occasions. The first tour made to India was in 1948-49, and the first to Pakistan
was in 1958-59. Thus, while the former West Indian players were restricted,
both in terms of duration of tours, frequency of tours and variety of countries
visited, no such problem exists for current West Indian cricketers.
Apart from the possibility of improving one's education and enriching one's
experiences through travel, cricket serves to improve the economic condition of
C.L.H. James relates how Iearie Constantine, Snr. nearly missed the 1900
tour to England because of his financial position. We are also told how the son,
I.carie Constantine, was forced to emigrate to England because he could not
play cricket and keep his job at the same time. As I said before, the same was
not necessarily true for white cricketers in the West Indies.
Today West Indian cricketers play cricket throughout the year and so are
able to live by the activity at which they excel. An impressive number of West
Indian cricketers have played and continue to play league cricket in England
during the months May to September An increasing number are playing
county cricket in England; and the earnings of Sobers, simply from playing
cricket, are reported to be the highest of any cricketer in the world. I suspect,
however, that South Africans Barry Richards and Mike Procter are not doing
Those who do not play for the West Indies, during what would be the winter
months in England (December March), may return to their jobs as coaches,
or like Sobers, Kanhai, Hall and now Lloyd, may find Australia a happy
hunting ground financially.
More and more efforts, however, are being made to keep West Indian test
cricketers in the West Indies when they are not performing in England during
the summer. It is reported that in one instance an expatriate firm in Guyana
raised the salary of a Guyanese test cricketer who worked for them as a coach
and welfare officer in order to dissuade him from leaving to play county cricket
Two factors here are of importance. In the first place, many West Indian
test cricketers have been able to improve their status economically by playing
test cricket, e.g. Butcher, Sobers, Kanhai, Ramadhin, the late Collie Smith,
Valentine, Gilchrist, and so on.
Secondly, many West Indian test cricketers have used their widened
horizons, not only to improve their economic position, but to maintain that
improved status. Thus, Learie Constantine took the opportunity, while playing
cricket in England, to become a lawyer and community leader there, which
finally earned him a knighthood. Weekes became a coach and is now a hotel
manager; Walcott moved from coach to welfare officer with Bookers in Guyana
and Valentine of Jamaica had similar fortune. Even where it is possible to
argue that a cricketer may have improved his economic position considerably
were it not for cricket, it would be nevertheless true to say that the pace and
thrust of his mobility would not' have been achieved so quickly had it not been
for cricket. Thus Worrell, despite his mental ability, which incidentally was
pressed into the service of cricket for several years, would hardly have reached
his distinguished position in the fields of education and politics in the West
Indies, if his mental ability and natural charm were not previously buttressed
by a very outstanding cricketing career. By improving a player's economic
position, cricket has improved his social standing and led to improvement in his
status position (life-style, prestige, deference). It is a fact that cricket has
provided an avenue for upward social mobility for non-white West Indian
Naturally, it followed that amelioration of economic condition and
improved education due to travel have enabled the West Indian cricketer, not
only to improve his life style and to sophisticate his consumption patterns, but
to make provision to ensure the continuity of that life style. This improvement
in life style has been accompanied by increasing prestige and recognition of a
leadership role. The West Indian cricketer's prestige has been increased,
among other things, by the frequency with which he is being asked to accept
lucrative coaching assignments. A request to coach, suggests, not only that one
has mastered the game, but that one is in a position to impart one's mastery to a
number of aspiring neophytes. A lucrative coaching assignment can, however,
mean even more than that. It signifies a degree of social estimation of one's
To the individual cricketer it means his society's acceptance of his skill
per se and his possible contribution to the values of his society. This is an
important development in West Indian society, where emphasis to the point of
making it a creed: "Work not Play" has been the guide to young people
choosing a means of livelihood. Many West Indian children were physically
beaten for playing too much and paying too little attention to school work,
despite the fact that such children consistently displayed no aptitude or interest
in the formal education, and both talent and interest in the game. The result
was, of course, that they fell between the proverbial two stools, unable to earn a
decent living at either "play" or work.
Secondly, the new social assessment of cricketing skill must be seen
against the backdrop of a society which has traditionally approved of a "collar
and tie" job, which certainly did not include cricket. It is interesting to note that
the Jamaican musician, Byron Lee, in a radio interview in late 1972, made a
similar point about musical talent. He recalled how hard he fought to get people
to accept that "musicians were people, too" and that playing music was an
eminently honourable way to make a living. He, therefore, had to inform
persons who hired his band in the earlier period that he and his band were not
prepared to accept some food on a table outside irrthe garden. They were an
integral part of the gathering, not to be relegated to the inferior status of hired
Finally, a player whose economic position was gained by excellence at
cricket, experiences a vastly increased amount of personal deference. Without
getting into an argument as to whether deference is being paid to the man
himself or to the man as a cricketer, let me merely say that the adoring glances
and attentions of females and the adulation of the crowd, both on and off the
field, do in a real sense fail to separate the man from the cricketer.
Consequently, excellence at the game provides the player with possible
satisfactions to a number of inner needs. A Freudian would probably argue that
hitting a ball or bowling fast provides the actor with the satisfaction of a sexual
need sublimated through the medium of cricket. There may be a lot in that on
which I won't argue at this point.
However, I would argue that cricket does afford the player the oppor-
tunity to fully express his inner self. Anyone who has seen a vintage Worrell
performance will understand what I mean. How else could one describe a
stroke (or rather two strokes) in which he played forward and having realized
that the ball was not up to the bat, lay back and late cut the ball out of the
wicket-keeper's gloves to the third man boundary. The need to re-create the art
of batting and simultaneously to raise himself from the prosaic level of
mortality into the realm of immortality was all expressed in that stroke, or
rather those two strokes.
The Gleaner cricket correspondent described Sobers' attainment of his
second consecutive century against the 1971 Indian touring team thus: He got
on his toes like a ballet dancer and with a flick of the wrist (characteristic of
Sobers) put the ball down through a motionless field, to the deep leg boundary
for four."' No further comment I maintain is necessary, except to say that
Sobers had asserted his authority. Finally, a few words about Rohan
Kanhai in this context are also very necessary.
Kanhai is one of those batsmen whose performance at the wicket is capable
of involving the spectator in the game totally and painfully sometimes. I
remember seeing a West Indian cricket fan, a noted West Indian writer and
social commentator, spending his time, during Kanhai's innings at Lords in
1963 against the M.C.C., drinking at the tavern and only occasionally allowing
himself the liberty of peeping out to see whether the batsman was still there.
Like watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the viewer is anxious to know how
the plot unfolds itself, but feels that he dare not watch the acutal unfolding
because it is too suspenseful. But the suspense pressures of not looking are
equally centripetal; thus having been caught between the pressures imposed
both by looking and not looking, he pretends to be asleep and only peeps when
the suspense of not looking exceeds that of looking. The involvement thus is both
total and painful.
Both Kanhai and Hitchcock qualify for the description of genius, but let me
deal with the former. In the Guyana Independence Issue of the New World,
C. L. R. James, among other things, gives us a brief insight into the genius of
Kanhai when he describes an innings played by the latter in a Festival match at
the end of the 1964 cricket season against England Elevens at Scarborough and
Edgbaston. Kanhai had made a century in both matches.
At Scarborough one sensed that Kanhai was looking for something new. Not
budging from his crease he lifted Trevor Bailey ten feet over mid on, wide of
long on to the boundary, he barely swung at the ball, yet as far as he was
concerned it was predestined."2
By the time he arrived at Edgbaston, on a wicket not unresponsive to spin
and in an atmosphere not unresponsive to swing, he had found what he was
looking for. I can do no better than to let James say it as it was:
"Kanhai did not go crazy. Exactly the reverse. He discovered,
created a new dimension in batting. The only name I can give
to it is cat-and-mouse. The bowler would bowl a length ball.
Kanhai would play a defensive stroke preferably off the front
foot, pushing the ball for one, quite often for two on the on-
side a most difficult stroke on an uncertain pitch demanding
precision footwork and clockwork timing. The bowler after
seeing his best lengths exploited in this manner would shift.
whereupon he was unfailingly despatched to the boundary.
After a time it began to look as if the whole sequence had
been pre-arranged for the benefit of the spectators. Kanhai did
not confine himself too rigidly to this pre-established harmony.
One bowler, to escape the remorseless billiard-like pushes,
brought the ball untimely up. Kanhai hit him for six to long-
on off the front foot. The bowler shortened a bit. Kanhai in
the same over hit him for six in the same place, off the back
foot this time He made over 170 in
about three hours."3
Kanhai, it should be noted, is an East Indian Guyanese who had come from
a none too prosperous region of Guyana and has been coached by Walcott and
Christiani. His batting during the Edgbaston innings had combined the power
of Walcott with the mercurial footwork of Christiani. But it did more. In the
Oval test in 1963 against England, he had introduced to cricket what some have
referred to as the "falling pull", at Edgbaston he had used all his technical
skill to play an innings which signalled to his audience his emergence as an
individual free to communicate his message in his own way, free to discover
himself in his own way, free to liberate himself from the limitations imposed
on him by the accident of birth. In short he had "done his t'ing"
However, while cricket has functioned to liberalise values in West Indian
society, it has also created for the cricketer a new set of obligations and duties.
Today, even more than before, the cricketer, who has been exalted to the status
of a hero is required to behave in a manner commensurate with this status both
on and off the field. Since bets are often placed on the anticipated performance
of players, lapses of concentration on the field become unpardonable sins. The
hero is also required to make himself available for photographs, shoulder rides
(especially after an impressive performance on the field), offers to advertise
products, such as the local rum; his preference for which product would not
help either his performance on the field, nor ultimately his status as a hero.
Because of high visibility in small West Indian societies, distinctions
between private and public life become merely academic. When a certain
Guyanese test cricketer was married in Guyana, the entire city turned out to
help him celebrate. Considering an invitation to be superfluous, spectator
support had been transformed from on-stage to off-stage activity.
But apart from the personal obligations, the status of a hero now carries
with it increasing expectations of political sophistication. Reaction to the visit
of Sobers to Rhodesia in 1971 brought out a number of letters mostly criticising
him for his disservice to the cause of non-white peoples. He was accused of
lack of awareness of the struggle by Blacks to unfetter themselves from the
yoke of imperialism and racism international sport being a most important
area of desegregation.
In a real sense West Indian cricket fans were saying to Sobers that they who
conferred on him the status of hero could therefore remove that status. In
addition, they were saying that the hero role carries with it certain obligations,
in this case not to betray the cause of non-white peoples and if an action
construed as constituting betrayal were perpetrated, then the traitor must be
punished. The hero therefore becomes a villain. Finally the Rhodesian visit
emphasises the very close link West Indians are making between sport and
politics, and by extension between cricket and nationhood.
If we look at the current political climate, the major territories in the West
Indies have just obtained a form of political independence, which in effect has
meant neither political, economic nor cultural independence. The colonial
legacy has bequeathed to us West Indians, societies rife with all sorts of internal
differences. This has meant that these societies are short of national heroes and
bereft of a strong sense of nationhood.
The emergence of the West Indies, in the early 1960s, as world cricket
champions has provided English speaking West Indians all over the world with a
sense of togetherness and regional identity, such as no other event had done
before. The participants in those notable contests in England and Australia in
particular were taken for leaders and expected to do everything in their power
to continue to keep that sense of nationhood alive. Instead the main hero stood
accused of doing just the opposite.
In this short analysis of Sobers' Rhodesian visit, I have tried to look at the
whole affair from the standpoint of a hero, who after having been revered for
his contribution to society, then proceeds to behave in a manner incongruent
with socially defined expectations of the status position. Viewed in a much
wider context, it is possible to argue that the performance of West Indian
cricketers is not only influenced by the colonial experience, but in a real sense
by the ambivalence displayed towards them by West Indian society.
The West Indian cricket crowd is swift both to praise and to blame. The
ease with which a hero is vilified must inevitably cause West Indian cricketers
further feelings of anxiety in addition to those originally generated by the
Cricket and Society
In addition to helping to promote a sense of "nationalism" among West
Indians, cricket has also sought to bridge the geographical gap (sometimes
many miles of sea) between territories. By travelling to other territories and by
receiving in turn visits from cricketers of other territories, cricket has sought to
bring members of various territories somewhat closer together. Similarly by
providing the opportunity to play together as one team, representing "the West
Indies", cricket has contrived to bring together representatives from various
territories for the purpose of performing together as one united entity.
However, as we have argued earlier on, the extent to which the West Indies
team performs as a united entity, oblivious to territorial differences, leaves
some room for doubt.
Cricket, as we have seen, operates as a leveller of differences in West
Indian society. The game has succeeded in removing the ascriptive basis (e.g.
on colour and race) for ranking individuals in society and for team selection
and replacing it with an achievement oriented basis (e.g. merit and ability).
The high esteem in which the late Collie Smith was held despite his humble
origins5 illustrates the influence cricket has had on the stratification of West
Indian society. Similarly the decision of Sir Frank Worrell to play cricket for
Boys' Town, on his return to Jamaica, is also indicative of the shift in West
Cricket has also become an important national pastime in the West Indies.
There are other sporting events such as football and horse racing and other
localized events, such as the religious rituals of Pocomania and Revivalism and
also political meetings, to which West Indians in general turn for recreation.
But the game of cricket provides by far the longest period of recreation, since
the fan indulge in giving a steady stream of advice to players on the field,
gambling on results of a cricket match have a ready opportunity to drink, to
have picnic and to engage in animated discussions on a wide range of topics.
Cricket thereby provides its audience in the West Indies with the opportunity
for emotional release as well as participation in a common pursuit.
The visitor to Sabina Park, Jamaica cannot fail to see how the structural
arrangement of seating accommodation reproduces a microcosm of the
segmentation of Jamaican society6 But no amount of structural separation
can prevent a West Indian audience from joint participation in paying homage
to a "heroic" performance. For example, a good innings may be rewarded by a
standing ovation from those in the pavilion, which may later give way to a less
impersonal demonstration of appreciation. However, the same performance
will always be rewarded by a handshake, slaps on the back and shoulder high
elevation by representatives of the masses. Despite various structural
constraints on this particular kind of hero appreciation, the masses are always
strategically placed in front of the elite section the pavilion, perhaps for this
very purpose. Cricket thus unites many from disparate social backgrounds,
however temporarily, in this act of hero-worship.
Finally, I would add a comment on the contribution of cricket to the cultural
apparatus in the West Indies. If one defines culture as a body of shared
sentiments, beliefs, methods of communication, practices, myths, etc., then it
is not hard to discern from previous discussion, the manner in which cricket has
influenced West Indian culture I however use the term 'culture' guardedly.
The untimely and tragic death of Collie Smith had served to underscore as
never before the sentiments evoked by the loss of a sporting personality. Old
timers talk of the agility of Learie Constantine and the legendary batting
prowess of George Headley, Challenor and Tarilton. Places and streets are now
being named after cricketing heroes, who are being honoured for their
contribution to society. Imbedded in our language are many cricketing
expressions. An acquaintance even used cricketing terminology in a eulogy of
his late friend, viz:
"Ow! Boysie, (name of deceased) you had a good match. You
cut, drove, hooked and pulled. You batted well for 78 runs, but
you got out de las' ball, de las' over, de las' day. You also
bowled well and even got 3 wickets for 14 runs."
Put in normal English, it would read:
"Ow Boysie, you have had a good life. You had a good time
during your 78 years, with wine, women and song, but you
died on the last day of the last month on Old Year's Day.
Sexually you were productive and proved your manhood by
fathering 14 children with 3 women."
Finally in a society desperately short of indigenous heroes, cricket provides
young West Indian boys with the chance to grow up with a sense of national
pride by identification with the exploits of West Indian cricket "stars"
Whereas in the past it was generally acceptable to refer to George Headley as
"the black Bradman", future generations of West Indians will find it more
appropriate and natural to compare foreign cricketers, by using West Indians
as the point of reference i.e. Bradman becomes 'the white Headley" The
desirability of developing this self respect augurs well for West Indian unity,
pride and dignity.
Cricket and the Crowd
On the subject of the crowd, we suggest that a match provides the
crowd with the opportunity to act out many of their frustrated emotions
originating in the social experience of a colonial people. Audience part-
icipation (which is akin to attendance at religious and political meetings)
provides a sort of mass therapy for West Indians. But there have been at
least three occasions in the West Indies when audience participation has
transcended the mere verbal communication and has included bottle
throwing on to the field of play. The rest of this article will be devoted
to a short analysis of these manifestations of audience participation, dis-
approved by some, and misunderstood by many.
The first such incidentoccurred in February 1954 in Guyana, the
second in January 1960 in Trinidad, and the third in February 1968 in
Jamaica. Such occurrences are admittedly not peculiar to West Indian
crowds, and although often considered the work of "hooligans", let us
note that "hooligans" also exist in Australia, India, Pakistan and England.
During the 1878-9 M.C.C. tour to Australia, spectators at Sydney
rushed on to the pitch and assaulted Lord Harris, the Kent and England
In 1903 in Australia during a visit of the M.C.C. a run-out decision
against Hill, when he and Trumper were hitting Australia out of defeat,
led the crowd to protest very violently.
In Pakistan three years ago during the M.C.C. tour, general unrest in
that country forced a premature end to that tour during the third test
In February 1971, spectators in Sydney, AusLralia, pelted bottles and
beer cans at M.C.C.'s fast bowler, John Snow, after he had hit Australian
tailender, Jenner, on the head with a delivery, thereby forcing the batsman
to retire hurt.
In England "hooligans", otherwise known as spectators in that
country, regularly assault players and referees during football matches and
destroy the British Railway's property on the way home after the game.
Let us, however, analyse the structural factors of the situations that
precipitated these violent demonstrations by cricket crowds in the West
The Guyana Incident
In Guyana, M.C.C. batted first and scored 435 runs in one of the
slowest scoring performances in test cricket. They had scored 153 for 2
in the first day, eclipsing their 128 in an entire day in the previous test
in Barbados and scored 248 on the second day of the Guyana test. Hutton
the captain had batted 460 minutes for 169 runs. One particularly more
agonizing feature of the England innings, as far as the West Indies was
concerned, was Stollmeyer's missing Wardle at 6 off the easiest of catches.
Wardle went on to make 38 and with Hutton added 79 runs for that wicket.
West Indies started their reply on the third day with Stollmeyer and
Worrell, the latter opening in place of the injured Holt. In one of the most
devastating spells of fast bowling ever seen at Bourda, Guyana, Statham, the
M.C.C. opening bowler, accounted for Worrell 0, Stollmeyer 2 and Walcott
4, before rain stopped play for the day with the home team 31 for 3, with
Weekes and Christiani, the not-out batsmen, on 21 and 3 respectively.
Weekes, in particular, during that innings of 21 had shown a refreshing
willingness not to be intimidated by the knowledge of Statham's fine per-
formance. There was therefore hope in the midst of despair.
But on the fourth day, Christiani, after some spirited resistance against
Statham, was given out, caught by Watson tumbling over. The batsman
remained at the wicket for some time until the umpire gave his decision.
The umpire was "Badge" Menzies, for many years head groundsman at
Georgetown Cricket Club at Bourda, and that time recently elevated to
the status of test umpire.
Weekes, despite pulling a muscle, played a truly grand innings. One
particular seemingly forward defensive shot off Statham had raced to the
boundary as if by divine fiat not a man moving. However, just when it
looked as though his efforts would be crowned with a century, he played
forward to one from Lock. The ball passed between bat and pad and chipped
the off-bail. Weekes, it appears, hearing no sound, stayed his ground. There
was an immediate appeal. Umpire Gillette at the bowler's end, apparently
unsighted, gave no signal, whereupon an appeal was made to the square
leg umpire, who gave Weekes out, fully ten seconds after the ball had been
delivered. Weekes had made 94. In the minds of the crowd it was worth 200.
The umpire was Badge Menzies and hope was fading.
With the score at 139 for 7, McWatt, a Guyanese and the injured
Holt, with a runner, came together. Despite his handicap, Holt batted
beautifully. McWatt also rose to the occasion and with a beautiful square
drive off Statham for 4, sent the score past the 200 mark. Hope was
returning. The West Indies now looked like avoiding the follow-on. With
the score at 237, McWatt drove one, intending to take a couple that would
have sent up the hundred partnership. Attempting the second run, he was
adjudged run out for 54.
The umpire was Badge Menzies. Hope had died. The new batsman
arrived to replace McWatt.
A section of the crowd in the North Stand demurred. Bottles were
thrown on to the field. Play was held up for ten minutes. The West Indies
were all out for 251, forced to follow-on, and subsequently lost the match
by 9 wickets. It was the first M.C.C. test victory in the West Indies since
1935. England who had lost the previous two test matches drew the fourth
and fifth, thus squaring the series.
In this summary so far, I have sought merely to recapture, not only
some of the salient events of that test match, but also something of the
tension-ridden atmosphere. There was, for example England's slow batting,
Statham's devastating spell and the manner in which Weekes, Christiani
and McWatt (the latter last two were Guyana's only two representatives
on the team) were given out by a Guyanese umpire.
But this was most certainly not all. What of the situation at the
societal level? The pre-1953 period in Guyana had seen an unprecedented
mobilization of masses along political lines, culminating in a resounding
victory for the People's Progressive Party (P.P.P.) at the April 1953 elections,
the first ever to be held under universal adult suffrage. By October of the
same year, the P.P.P. had been hounded out of office by what the political
scientist, Gordon Lewis, describes as a piece of Churchillian gunboat dip-
lomacy. British troops were sent to back up the suspension of the Con-
stitution. There were many reported instances of these troops beating up
Guyanese, who were overtly hostile to their presence. One of the deposed
members of the P.P.P. was facing sedition charges. Guyana was more
politically aware than it had ever been, in particular, of the potential for
collective action to make structural improvements which, as a means of
protest, had been clearly exploited.
Finally, as C. L. R. James argues,7 this M.C.C. team had a bad reputation
which no doubt, preceded their arrival in Guyana. It was against this back-
ground that the cricketing representatives of the country that had recently
suspended Guyana's Constitution arrived to play cricket, as though nothing
had happened. During that match then, not only was there despair then hope,
and then despair, as well as tension at the societal level.
The irony of the situation, however, was that the crowd's ire, unlike
the recent 1971 Australian example, was directed, not against the Englishmen
(Hutton had kept his men on the field in 1954 Illingworth had to lead his
men off in Australia in 1971), but against the Guyanese umpire, Menzies.
Let us now look at the Trinidad incident.
The Trinidad Disturbance
In the Trinidad disturbance, which occurred on the third day of the
second test on January 30, 1960, England batted first and scored 382 after
nearly two days' occupation of the wicket. At the close of the second day's
play, West Indies were 22 for 0. Even at that stage a feature of the match
was the number of bumpers bowled. Reporting in the Trinidad Guardian,
on the previous day's play, Charles Bray, in an article captioned "The
Bumper War is on" remarked thus of Trueman's bowling:
"There were three of the best in the first over with one in
each of his next two overs and a couple of snorters in the last,
one of which hit Solomon (the West Indian opener) in the ribs."8
The West Indies, he argued, had apparently started the "bumper war"
The end of play score of 22 for 0, however, had given the crowd some
reasonable semblance of hope of a useful West Indian reply. After all, this
same batting side had scored 563 for 8 declared in reply to England's first
innings total of 482, in the previous test in Barbados. On the third day
things began to happen. Before a record crowd of 32,000, Hunte played a
fast ball from Statham on to his boot, the ball carrying to Trueman at leg
slip who "took a lazy one-handed catch" high in the air. Hunte was pre-
paring to take guard again, when wicket-keeper, Swetman appealed, where-
upon the batsman was given out by umpire Lloyd.
Ninety minutes later, the West Indies were 45 for 5, from which
they moved to 98 for 8. At this stage, Ramadhin and Singh (both Trini-
dadians) were batting. The former was adopting a no-nonsense attitude to
the bowling. He had hit 3 fours. Singh was also shaping up with "surprising
confidence", In attempting a run that was never there, he was given run
out by Trinidadian umpire, Lee Kow.
The new batsman arrived on the scene, whereupon the crowd began
to throw bottles. Press reports the next day claimed that 100 people were
hurt and everyone, especially the Governor was "bitterly ashamed"
The West Indies went on to score 112. England batted a second time and by
scoring 230 for 9 declared, set the West Indies 500 runs to make. The latter
scored 244 in the second venture and lost the match by 256 runs.
One spectator who claimed that he did not throw any bottles, never-
theless agreed with the crowd's reaction.
C. L. R. James has dealt quite adequately with many, but, in my
opinion, not all of the important factors surrounding the crowd's behaviour
He has cited the following: 9
there were too many people at the Queen's Park Club ground
which meant too many people had to stand and were therefore,
made to feel uncomfortable.
charges for refreshments were too high, the high cost of con-
cessions charged by Q. P. C. being passed on to the crowd.
the management of Q. P. C. represented the old regime to which
the masses were hostile.
At the social level James instances the following:
the public was disenchanted over the refusal of the West Indies
Cricket Board, both to appoint a black man as captain, and to
reinstate Gilchrist on the West Indies team.
the public was dissatisfied with the seemingly nori-impartial attitude
of Trinidad umpires as far as Trinidadians and West Indians were
To the above points the following can be added. The match itself was
one during which hope and despair alternated. At 22 for 0 there was hope,
then there was despair as the West Indies collapsed. Finally as James put it,
though not a soul in the ground expected Ramadhin to make 20, never-
theless some flicker of hope remained until this was extinguished by Singh's
run out. Secondly the crowd was perplexed by Hunte's dismissal, and for a
long time the manipulators of the scoreboard were unable to determine
whether he had been given out Ibw or caught. No doubt many were also
angry at the circumstances surrounding his dismissal. Thirdly the "bumper
war" was an ongoing concern and no doubt the spectators felt that this
in some way contributed to the poor showing of the West Indies. There
was, therefore, anger and frustration.
At the societal level, it must be remembered that January 1960 found
Trinidad in somewhat of a political turmoil. Elections were to be held the
following year, there was talk of political independence which came in 1962
and the People's National Movement was in the thick of a struggle to get
back the Chaguaramas base from the Americans. The highlight of this
struggle, the march in the rain to the American Embassy, led by Dr.
Williams, on April 22, 1960, was to take place less than three months after
the bottle throwing incident. Trinidadians, it may be argued, were at the
time in a struggle against another white imperialist nation, the Americans,
who were beginning to make their presence felt in the Caribbean.
The Jamaica Disturbance
The disturbance occurred on the 12th February, 1968, during the fourth
day's play of the second test match against the M.C.C.
England batted first and scored 376 runs. The West Indies on what was
generally accepted as an atrocious wicket were bowled out for 143 runs, the
M.C.C. fast bowler Snow taking 7 for 49. As in Guyana and Trinidad, the West
Indies had opening batsmen problems. At the end of the third day's play, the
West Indies, have been asked to follow on, were 81 for 0. There was at this stage
definitely hope that the West Indies would improve considerably on the first
innings' performance which had been the cause of so much despair.
On the fourth day, after an opening partnership of 102 runs, the West Indies
were 204, just 29 runs being needed to make England bat again with Butcher
and Sobers batting. Butcher, who had been caught behind the wicket in the first
innings for 21, after hitting 2 fours off Jones and Snow, both described as
"thrilling strokes, all of them that gave the jam packed crowds a long delayed
chance to cheer",10 was now on 25. Sobers, after a shaky start, seemed to be
settling down to a big score, which he eventually got 113 not out.
It was at this score (204) that Butcher, it was generally agreed, was
brilliantly caught on the leg side by the wicket-keeper Parks. Once more there
was despair and frustration.
Nothing happened until Holford got to the crease, then bottles and beer can
began to be thrown on the field. E. W. Swanton, writing in "The Daily Gleaner"
on the following day, had this to say about the incident.
the ignorant venom of a few betrayed the sportsmanship
of many Sobers cried out to the turbulent section, "Butcher
was out" but those bent on mischief were past hearing.""11
The crowd as they invaded the pitch in an effort to avoid tear gas fumes
were heard to chant, "Sang Hue no more" Sang Hue is a Jamaican test umpire,
who was on duty during the match.
Apart from Swanton's misunderstanding of the underpinnings of crowd
behaviour, this excerpt shows that the crowd's ire was being directed not
against Sobers or the visiting team, but against the Jamaican umpire, Sang
It must also be remembered that as Orlando Patterson argues, in an article
on cricket,12 perhaps more than in any other territory, the Sabina Park
audience presented a microcosm of Jamaican society with its obdurate class -
colour divisions. In addition, Jamaica was just beginning to manifest the first
serious indicators of black awareness and black dignity. In 1967 there was, for
example, open disagreement with the manner in which the 'Miss Jamaica"
beauty contest was run. The implication was that it was biased against
black Jamaicans. Also later, in 1968, saw the expulsion of a Guyanese univer-
lecturer as an undesirable resident or visitor. As a result of ensuing
demonstrations, one man was killed and a number of others injured.
Analysis and Comment
There are similarities in all these three disturbances at cricket in the West
Indies. On all occasions the home team was playing against England, whose
opportunity to bat first was well used, and left the visitors poised for victory. By
comparison the West Indies batted poorly and were asked to follow on. But
despite a poor first innings, there was still hope that the West Indies would save
the game in Guyana and Trinidad in the first innings, in Jamaica in the
second innings. In fact, however, the West Indies had problems with their
opening batsmen, and faced hostile fast bowling by English (Statham in
Guyana, Truman in Trinidad, Snow in Jamaica). In Jamaica the wicket was
blamed; batsmen had to dig out shooters. These technical factors added to
uncertainty about the manner in which key (No. 1) batsmen were given out, did
little to relax the large crowds in attendance, and for whom inadequate
facilities were provided.
In fact, the crowds were doubtful of the impartiality of the dismissal of their
local batsman in favour of the visitors. To the spectator, if not to the umpire, a
catch in the outfield or clean bowled is much less doubtful than a run-out or
caught behind the wicket.
The anger of the crowd seemed to be directed most specifically at the
umpires Menzies in Guyana, Lee Kow in Trinidad and Sang Hue in Jamaica,
light skinned nationals in their home territory, and not against the England team
of white players. The disturbance occurred upon the arrival of the new batsman
at the wicket.
Lastly, the social and political climate in each of the territories was one of a
growing militant nationalism.
A test series lasts for over a month and a test match for 5 days, thus even
more than a religious or political meeting, a cricket match provides
opportunity for a collective response of some fervour. Besides victory over an
English touring team is sweeter, since the master is beaten at his own game.
Collective behavioral response is assisted by the size of the crowd and the easy
communication of any grievance, or emotional reaction, despair, hope or
frustration. The precipitating factor is the arrival of the new batsman at the
Now it is very noticeable that the anger of the crowd was directed toward one
of its own, albeit a light skinned one the umpire. This is the typical result of a
colonial process which has predisposed West Indians to seek for the enemy
among themselves. It may well be that when the course of nationalism has been
further advanced, future demonstrations may not be directed against the
umpire, but against members of the opposing team, as in 1971 in Australia.
Since a cricket match does not take place in a vacuum, but in a given society,
then political and other tensions producing strains for members of society will
inevitably be exported into the context of the game, thus compounding any
tensions and frustrations currently in existence in the game itself. Here
political tensions and uncertainties at a national level and similar tensions at
test matches, primarily occasioned by large crowds uncomfortably ac-
commodated, and poor West Indian performance, constitute the basic
ingredients for a demonstration. In addition, if the crowd believe that local
umpires are a contributing factor to the poor performance of the West Indies,
then a precipitating factor, such as a run-out or a police indiscretion, could
quite conceivably spark off a disturbance.
The analysis of these three events also shows that cricket enables
West Indian audiences to come together in large numbers to enjoy a
highly rated pastime, and in so doing, West Indians refurbish group solid-
arity. By their ready and continuous participation in the game, West
Indian spectators take part (albeit at a low level) in the government of
cricket as well as act out some of the frustrated emotions which spring
from the social experience. A cricket match thus performs a cleansing
function, especially when circumstances provide the opportunities for
Summary and Conclusions
In this two-part article I was primarily concerned with the problem
of why in the midst of various decolonizing efforts on the part of West
Indian governments, the game of cricket still ranks high in the cultural
apparatus of many West Indians.13 To this end, an analysis was made of
the socio-historical condition that produced and influenced West Indian
cricket, by looking at the contribution cricket makes to West Indian society.
The creolized nature of West Indian cricket was perhaps particularly
borne out by crowd reaction and participation in the game, where West
Indians have a chance to act out some of the frustrations occasioned by the
weakness of the economic situation characteristic of ex-colonial territories.
It is obvious the game has been re-shaped in sympathy with the ex-
periences of its exponents whose dominant cultural apparatus reflects the
combination of the European and non-European cultural variations. This
deviation from the way the game is played in England, not only tends to
belie the meaningfulness of the saying "it's not cricket", as far as West
Indians are concerned, but also suggests the extent to which cricket, like
other facets of the West Indian situation, reflects the impact of this duality
of cultural influences. I refer here to other facets, such as the existence of
many female-headed households among lower class West Indians of African
descent, the syncretic nature of lower class religions, such as Shango,
Pocomania and Revivalism and the continued belief in the complementary
therapeutic value of obeah to scientific medical practices.
Disturbances in the cricket arena, such as those dealt with could be
seen as spontaneous eruptions of a dispossessed people in what is still very
much a colonial situation. This explains why West Indians tend to attack their
own umpires. Though such disturbances become more a gesture of despair,
than any attempt to hurt anyone specifically, such disturbances indicate the
existence of possible ingredients for revolutionary activity. We recall
"The colonised man will first manifest this aggressiveness
which has been deposited in his bones against his own people."14
And later -
"Where individuals are concerned a positive negation of com-
monsense is evident. While the settler policeman has the right
the livelong day to strike the native, to insult him and to make
him crawl to them, you will see the native reaching for his
knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive glance cast on him
by another native; for the last resort of the native is to defend
his personality vis-a-vis his brother."15
Fanon's view may also help to explain a number of other behavioral
manifestations attributed to West Indians. In addition to the contribution
of needs at the level of the crowd, cricket also provides fulfilment for the
individual cricketer and the wider society. Significantly, however, am-
bivalences at the wider societal level also find expression among the audience
and on the cricket field. In concluding, I suggest that because of the so-
cio-cultural aspect of cricket in West Indian society, the game will continue
to form an integral part of West Indian cultural expression, though it will
probably further be moulded to suit the environment.
MAURICE ST. PIERRE
REFERENCES & FOOTNOTES
1. The Daily Gleaner, March 29, 1971, P. 14.
2. James, C. L. R. "Kanhai: A Study in Confidence", New World, Guyana
Independence Issue, (eds.) G. Lamming and M. Carter, 1966.
3. Ibid, P. 15.
4. Caribbean Quarterly, June 1973. Vol. 19. 2.
5. The late Collie Smith played for Boys' Town, a team which represented an
underprivileged section of the Jamaican Community.
6. For a fuller discussion of this, see Orlando Patterson, "The Ritual of Cricket",
Jamaica Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, March, 1969, pp. 22 25.
7. C. L. R. James. Beyond a Boundary, op. cit.
8. See "Trinidad Guardian", January 30, 1960, p. 14.
9. C. L. R. James. Beyond a Boundary, op. cit., p. 237.
10. The Daily Gleaner, February 13, 1968.
11. Ibid., p. 12.
12. Orlando Patterson, op. cit.
13. It seems to me that any activity in which spectators spend six hours for three
to five days in boiling hot sun must be of significance to the social scientist.
14. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press Inc.
15. Constantine, Learie and Denzil Batchelor. The Changing Face of Cricket.
London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1966.
THE PLACE OF VOODOO
IN THE SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF HAITI
This article is a revised and expanded version of a paper read in the
Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, on May 10, 1972. The
helpful comments of Drs. R. T. Smith, Regina Holloman and Stephen Mueller,
S.J. on this and other occasions are gratefully acknowledged.
Voodoo has always played an important role in the Haitian culture. Indeed,
from the period of the French colonization until the present time, Voodoo has
always been connected with the cultural and political life of the Haitians. In
turn its history is marked by the historical evolution of the nation. Since Voodoo
was not a rigid religion, it adapted itself to the sociological conditions of its
milieu-and borrowed features continually from the formally organized religions
of Haiti, Protestantism and Catholicism. A religion with messianic
characteristics during the period of slavery, after emancipation, with the
appearance of the Lakou, Voodoo became a familiar cult. But with the
gradual disappearance of Lakou at the end of the nineteenth century, Voodoo
became an independent religion which expressed the solidarity of the village.
Although continually attacked by politicians and intellectuals who failed to
recognize the African origins of the Haitian people, Voodoo has always been
tolerated. In 1941, it was the source of the division which separated the Catholic
clergy and the pro-French elite from the partisans of the Movement De La
Negritude who wanted to affirm the values of their African heritage Price-
Mars (1928), Roumain (1942), Lorimer Denis and Duvalier (1944) were the most
lamous advocates of this cause. During this period, a few years after the
occupation of Haiti by the American marine corps, Voodoo received a strong
blow from the Catholic Church. Like the Inquisition in medieval times, the
French missionaries confiscated and burned all the Voodoo objects which the
peasants willingly gave them. Other unwilling peasants were violently forced to
give up their cultic objects. Despite this barbaric tactic, they did not succeed in
eradicating the religion of the peasants. With the government of Duvalier,
Voodoo arose again from its secrecy because many of the Voodoo clergy are
also powerful Tontons-Macoutes.
The slave population of Saint-Domingue: 1681 1789
Before the French colonization, African slaves lived in Saint-Domingue. We
know that in 1501 slaves who were living in Saint-Domingue did not come
directly from Africa, but from "Portugal and Spain".1 Around 1517, the
Massive importation of slaves from Africa to Saint-Domingue began. Indeed, at
this date 4,000 slaves were transported to the island.
The first census of the Negro population that we have dates from the
beginning of the French colonization. This census of May 16812 numbers the
population as follows: Class of free people: 4,336; Class of slaves: 2,312. At that
time, Mulattoes did not form a separate class but belonged to the class of free
people or to the class of slaves according to whether they were Affranchis
(freed) or not by their white fathers. Later, free Mulattoes and free Negroes
constituted a special class. The Census of 1753 ratified a state of fact by
indicating the following division: Class of Whites: 12,799; Class of
Affranchis: 4,732; Class of Slaves: 165,859. The Black and Mulatto
population was obviously increasingly.
By this time, the population of Engages (indentured servants) became
almost extinct. They were not strong enough for the work on the plantations,
and so they were too poor an investment for the owners to make. Some of'them
could not adapt to the tropical climate of Saint-Domingue. So, colonists
preferred to buy African slaves. From this time on, it was necessary to bring
more slaves into the colony. It is not surprising then, that as early as July 31,
1767 by Arret Du Conseil, the slave trade, formerly given over to chartered
Companies- Compagnie des Indes Occidentales (1664), Compagnie d'Afrique
et du Senegal (1674), Compagnie de Sant-Domingue (1698), Compagnie
de Guinee (1685), Compagnie des Indes (1720), Compagnie du Sdengal
(1696), Compagnie de l'Assiente (1701-1712) was now open to anyone.
This greatly increased the Negro immigration. Thus, we can understand why
on the eve of the French Revolution the proportion of slaves in the population
was so high. Although we know that the planters did not reveal the number of
their slaves, in order not to pay the "head tax"3 for the children and those
Negroes older than 45, the census of 17894 showed nonetheless a spectrum of
population composed of: Class of Whites: 30,826; Class of Affranchis:
36,000; Class of slaves: 620,000. Here no mention has been made about the
population of the maroons that became more and more extensive after the
revolt of Padrejean, one of the maroon chiefs in the northern part of Saint-
Domingue. Incidentally, the cause of the increase in the Mulattoes is to be found
in the concubinage of the colonists with the female slaves. According to Hilliard
d'Auberteuil5 who reported the Census of 1774, three-quarters of Whites,
Mulatto and Negro women who were in the colony lived in concubinage or were
prostitutes. Concubinage was the rule; marriage the exception.
Where did the slaves come from? By answering this question we may be
able to find out what kinds of African beliefs entered into the formation of the
Haitian Voodoo. Frederic Elie Moreau de Saint-Mery6 (1598), the his-
toriographer of Saint-Domingue, gives us more details on the African origins
of the slaves. The Senegalese, Yoloffes, Foules, Bambaras, Quiambas,
Mandingues came from the region of Latitude North 170 in West Africa up to
Sierra-Leone. From Sierra-Leone south to the Gold Coast, came the Bouriquis,
Miseralbes, Mesurades (or Cangas), Aradas, Caplacus, Mines, Agouas, Socos,
Fantins, Cotocolis, Popos, Fidas, Fonda, Mais, Aoussas, Ibos, Nagos. The most
numerous Negroes in Saint-Domingue came from the region between Cape
Lopez and Cape Negre: Mayombes, Congos, Mousombes, Mondongues. A few
Negroes arrived from the region between the West Coast and the Cape of Good
Hope: Mozambique, Quiloi, Quiriam and Mortifiat.
Upon arrival in Saint-Domingue these Africans were lost in the anonymous
crowd of slaves. Without paying attention to their ties of kinship and their
various origins, they were distributed randomly on the plantations. The desire
of the colonists to collect as much money as possible and to return to France to
enjoy life aggravated the intrinsic contradictions of the slavery system. A small
number of owners in the midst of a horde of slaves becoming ever more
conscious of their enslaved condition, an alarming absenteeism, the growing
population of maroons and non-owner Affranchis, the ever-increasing fear on
the part of the colonists-these are the factors that describe the atmosphere in
which the inhabitants of Saint-Domingue had to live.
Christianization of the Slaves
French colonization had to be accompanied by the Christianization of the
slaves. By convincing the King of France that they would make Africans
Christians by inspiring in them the cult of the true God, the colonists were
allowed by him to come to the island. Father Labat7 in his book, Voyage Aux
Isles De I'Amerique informs us that "it was a very old law that the lands
submitted to the King of France made free all who lived in them. That is why
King Iouis XIII had so much trouble in accepting the fact that the first
inhabitants of the Island had slaves and agreed only because he was persuaded
that it was the only certain means to inspire faith in the true God in the
Africans, to take away their idolatry, and to make them persevering until
death in the Christian religion."
It was a shared conviction by missionaries of the era that the cruelties of
slavery were justified by the opportunity it gave the slave to become a
Christian. Thus Father Du Tertre8 boasted about the fact that "there is almost
no Negro in all the French West Indies who is not a Christian and to whom the
missionaries have not given a new birth in the waters of baptism."
Slaves had to be baptized within the eight days after their arrival according
to article 2 of the Negro Code: "All slaves who will be in the islands will be
baptized and educated in the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Religion.
Inhabitants who buy newly arrived Negroes are ordered under penalty of an
arbitrary fine to announce said purchase within eight days to the governors and
intendants of the islands, who will give the necessary orders to baptize them at
a convenient time." Evidently because the owners failed in this task, the King
felt the necessity to include this article in the Negro Code. Would they take it
On certain plantations, colonists desired to baptize their slaves. In order to
avoid being called Bossals (savages) and to shun the derision of the Creoles,
many slaves willingly accepted baptism. While the colonists divided the slaves
to maintain control they also encouraged the groundless dogma of the su-
periority of their own race and religion. The enculturation of the Creoles in
the environment explains the fact that Creoles considered the new-coming
Africans as Bossals or baptises debout (adult slaves compelled to be baptized).
Even in the class of slaves, a hierarchy of position was explicitly marked.
Moreau de Saint-Mery9 reports that "the Negro Creoles believe, because of the
baptism that they have received, they have a great superiority over all Negroes
coming from Africa, who are called Bossals (used in the whole of Spanish
America). Unbaptized Africans were called Chevaux (Horses)." At certain
times such as Holy Saturday and Saturday before Pentecost when adults were
baptized, Negroes came to the Church to be baptized, very often without any
Catechetical preparation, and without any other goal than to obtain the god-
father and godmother assigned to them at the time. They received the first
Christian sacrament and then were spared the derision addressed to the non-
baptized, although Negro Creoles continued to call them Baptises debout.
In Cap-Francais, a Jesuit, Father Boutin10 had begun to organize Masses for
Negroes. He tried to adapt liturgy to their customs, to instruct them in their
catechism, and to introduce them to the Catholic faith. In fact, it was the only
attempt at evangelization in depth which had been tried. Father Boutin was
named Cure' Des Negres (Pastor of the Negroes) and was liked by them.
Some Jesuits did not fail to speak for the Negroes at the proper time. In a
Ministerial Dispatch recalling a Memorandum" by Jesuit missionaries, one can
read that "priests said that they find difficult problems to solve concerning the
Negroes. The first one is the cruelty of the masters who don't grant what has
been dictated by the Code. These poor slaves are obliged either to work on
Saturday and Sundays in order to get their food or to steal You will
announce to the masters their true interests: the better the Negroes are
instructed, the more they will be faithful to them. Finally, if they don't listen to
those exhortations, the King wants you to oblige them to furnish the Negroes,
with a suitable quantity of food as is prescribed in the Negro Code. The second
obstacle comes in that a Negro of a plantation is not allowed to marry the
Negro female of another plantation. This legal obstacle is the cause of many
bad marriages that are consummated out of necessity".
The slave as a human being did not interest the colonist. He existed in the
eyes of the colonist as a tool for work. One may understand that. in such a
situation there is evidently no place for taking into consideration his religious
life. The colonists did not behave as men who really believed in religion, nor did
the priests inspire confidence. As the historian James12 remarked:
The regular clergy of San Domingo instead of being a moderating
influence were notorious for their irreverence and degeneracy.
In the early years they consisted chiefly of unfrocked monks.
Later came a better class of priests, but in that turgid, over-
heated society few were able to withstand the temptations of
easy money, easy living, and easy women; many of them lived
openly with their concubines. Their greed for money led them
to exploit the Negroes with the same ruthlessness as the rest
of white San Domingo. About the middle of the eighteenth
century one of them used to baptize the same Negroes seven
or eight times, for the ceremony amused the slaves and they
were willing to pay a small sum for each baptism. As late as
1790 another was competing with the Negro obeah-men for
the coppers of the slaves, by selling charms against illness and
talismans to insure the success of their ventures.
As there were no bishops to give pastoral directives to the priests, each one
was doing his own business. Religious orders such as the Dominicans, the
Capuchins, and the Jesuits had their own policy concerning the admission of the
slaves to the sacraments. Dessalles13 reports that "Capuchins baptize almost
all who are presented to them. Jacobins, on the other hand, who follow a more
strict morality, require that they be instructed before baptizing them; and
since this is an almost impossible thing, baptism of Negro adults are extremely
rare in the parishes that they administer"
In speaking of the religious practices of the slaves, we must distinguish
between town slaves and rural slaves. As Debien14 has pointed out: "Those
of the towns, where there was a pastor, found some help in learning the basic
catechism lessons and sometimes could assist at worship. But the slaves of the
plantations have none and'never assist at mass'.15 Even if the inhabitants want
to instruct them, they 'cannot; they lack catechists and nobody wants to do
it' The great number of plantations and the penury of missionaries do not
allow it". The assertion of Petit is weakened by the known fact that on certain
plantations the commander made the slaves pray in the morning and evening,
and sometimes an old lady taught them some lessons from the catechism. The
value of these religious exhortations is another question.
This lack of organization in the Catholic Church was due to that tension
between colonists and missionaries which is intrinsic to the slavery system.
Failing to bring to the slave a sympathetic image of the Church and trying to
tell him that he is in his place and must look for holiness as a slave, the Catholic
religion had very little authority in the eyes of the slave. Catholic religion was
perceived as a magic of the Whites, and in order to borrow something from this
religion, the slaves went to Church as the colonists allowed them to. But the
memory of the African gods was present in their mind. Their first concern was
to imitate what they had seen in the church. Despite the problem of
incomprehension and the interdiction against frequent meetings, slaves found a
way to create a new religion responsive to their needs.
FORMATION AND ROLE OF VOODOO IN THE STRUGGLES
FOR THE INDEPENDENCE OF HAITI
Accepting the general belief of the epoch, the colonists thought that slaves
bought in Africa were people without history. In bringing them into the hell of
Saint-Domingue, they would be able to exploit them for plantation work and
make money. Besides practically disorganizing the family structures and the
political organizations of the African slaves, slavery also influenced the religion
of the slaves, but only very little their religious interpretation of the world; the
basically African Voodoo borrowed merely external traits from Catholicism.
Slavery was also responsible for the political dimension in the Voodoo. Voodoo
messianism was a political, racial and nationalistic messianism. From time to
time Voodoo leaders emerged and presented themselves as immortal beings
with a divine mission to save the race.
Despite the hard work the slaves were subjected to, despite the hostile
environment of Whites and commanders with whom they had to live, despite
the principal intention of colonists to make the Africans Christians, the slaves
reconstituted in the hell of Saint-Domingue a religion which grew out of and
served their needs. But did the plantation work give the time and opportunity to
organize it as they wanted? The schedule of a work day was overburdened.
According to James16: "The stranger in San Domingo was awakened by the
cracks of the whip, the stifled cries, and heavy groans of the Negroes who saw
the sun rise only to curse it for its renewal of their labours and their pains. Their
work began at daybreak; at eight they stopped for a short breakfast and worked
again till mid-day. They began again at two o'clock and worked until evening,
sometimes 'til ten or eleven"
Their work was not easy, as we may see by the description that a Swiss
traveller17 gives about a gang of slaves at work:
They were about a hundred men and women of different ages
all occupied in digging ditches in a cane-field, the majority of
them naked or covered with rags. The sun shone down with full
force on their bodies. Their limbs, weighed down by the heat,
fatigued with the weight of their picks and by the resistance of
clayey soil baked hard enough to break their implements strained
themselves to overcome every obstacle. A mournful silence
reigned. Exhaustion was stamped on every face, but the hour
of rest had not yet come. The pitiless eye of the manager
patrolled the gang and several foremen armed with long whips
moved periodically between them, giving stinging blows to all
who, worn out by fatigue, were compelled to take a rest -
men or women, young or old"
One knows that the domestic slaves lived a less hard life; they were not
under the watching of the commanders even if they were subjected to the
barbarism of the masters. One of the principal resources of Saint-Domingue
was sugar. The majority of the slaves were employed on the sugar plantation.
The historian Jamesi8 claims:
The sugar plantation demanded an exacting and ceaseless labour.
The tropical earth is baked hard by the sun. Round every
'carry' of land intended for cane it was necessary to dig a large
ditch to ensure circulation of air. Young canes required atten-
tion for the first three or four months and grew to maturity
in 14 to 18 months. Cane could be planted at any time of the
year, and reaping of one crop was the signal for the immediate
digging of ditches and the planting of another. Once cut they
had to be rushed to the mill lest the juice became acid by
fermentation. The extraction of the juice and manufacture of
the raw sugar went on for three weeks a month 16 or 18 hours
a day, for seven or eight months in the year.
The article 22 of the Negro Code foresees that masters had to give enough
food to their slaves: 'Masters are obliged to furnish each week to their slaves
above 10 years old, for their food, two pots and a half of manioc, three cassavas,
two pounds of salt beef or three pounds of salted fish" This rule remained a
dead letter. Colonists gave to the slaves pieces of land to cultivate for their own
subsistence. Thus the hours of rest that they had were spent working on their
own fields; they worked on Sundays in order to feed themselves. Although this
practice was forbidden by the Negro Code, the colonists did not care. Article 24
of the Negro Code stipulated: "It is forbidden to the masters to give food and
subsistence to their slaves by allowing them to work certain days of the week
for their own care" This helps us understand how the official documents can
give us an unreal image of slavery. In order to understand the life of the slave, it
is not enough to read the official documents, since in fact there existed such a
great discrepancy between theory and practice. Only data about the actual life
of the slave on the plantations can allow us to understand his world, the
environment in which he lived and his reactions and adaptations to this world.
Brought to Saint-Domingue, the slaves did not cease to remain in secret
contact with their African gods even after their baptism. Since colonists had
authority over their religious practices, a transplantation of their African
religions was impossible. Everything had to be done clandestinely. Among the
slaves, there were some native priests who had authority over their fellow
slaves. Because of the distribution of the slaves from different regions into the
same plantation, a tactic used by colonists to avoid revolts among slaves, these
African priests, by their knowledge and their experience became the natural
leaders of the slaves. The priests acted as "doctor feuilles" (medicine
men) and makers of charms; but only within the context of domestic life, since
it was forbidden to practise openly what the masters called the African
Moreau de Saint-Mery19 reports that slaves were superstitious and wore
talismans. The Voodoo cult at this time was a secret cult, because of the
breakdown of all familial and clan organization and the prohibition of public
meetings organized by the slaves. Moreau de Saint-Mery tells us that Negroes
believed that the magic and the influence of their fetishisms followed them
beyond the seas. Little figures of wood or of rock, representing men or animals,
were for them the authors of supernatural things. These were called "garde-
Masters were accustomed to set aside Saturday evening for the recreation
of the slaves. So the slaves would assemble on a plantation and dance the
Calenda or Vaudoux. It was an escape from their daily realities. These
dances had a social and sacred character, which colonists understood only
later. These meetings played a major part in fixing the rituals of the colonial
Voodoo. The Voodoo is a danced religion which allows communication with the
loas (spirits) and their African ancestors. These meetings were prohibited
when the colonists finally became suspicious that slaves might be using the
opportunity to organize revolts. In this spirit we must read article 16 of the
Negro Code: "Slaves belonging to different masters are forbidden to as-
semble day or night, under penalty of corporal punishment."
It was in the camps of the maroons that the religion definitely took its
definitive form. Since the Dahomeans and Togolese were in the majority, the
elements of their traditional religions played a great role in the making of
Voodoo. As Parrinder20 said: "This Fon word Vodu for a god may be derived
from vo, 'apart', like the original sense of the word 'sacred' The Togolese form
is Vudu which is undoubtedly the origin of the American term Voodoo. Slaves
from Dahomey and Togo seem to have been sent mainly to Haiti."
In their settlements, maroons openly and freely practised Voodoo. Voo-
doo allowed them to be aware of their enslaved condition. The political and
messianic significance of Voodoo was a unifying factor in the struggles for
liberation. Strengthened by Voodoo spirits and conscious of their power, the
maroons destroyed the plantations in Cul-de-Sac in 1691 and in the North in 1696.
Until the emancipation these maroons remained the political consciousness of
the slaves. Prophets arose who presented themselves as messengers of Voodoo
spirits and whose mission was to liberate Africans from the domination of the
colonists. These prophets had great authority over the slaves. Padrejean and
Makendal are the most well-known maroon chiefs because of the effectiveness
of the methods that they used. Makendal, former member of the Muslim
religion and fluent in Arabic, was the man most feared by the colonists. As
Mennesson-Rigaud21 quoting Cabon wrote: 'Makendal had the secret of poisons
and exercised around him an immense influence. His agents, dispersed
throughout the whole colony, obeyed him at the least sign. Thus he was the
master of life and death in Sain-Domingue. He prophesied that the destruction
of Whites would come by poisoning them.'
This consciousness of freedom was expressed in a religious form because
the political power of the colonists was too strict and too strong to allow even the
thought of a political rebellion to be expressed. As early as 1751, in a Voodoo
ceremony in Bois-Caiman, the slaves resolved to exterminate the Whites.
Because of the importance of this event, we think it profitable to describe it
more in detail. We borrow the description of the event from the Haitian
In order to make people fanatics for the cause of independence,
on the night of August 14, 1791, Boukman gathered a great
number of slaves in a bush area Bois-Caiman, near Morne-Rouge.
When all were gathered, a storm exploded. In a few moments,
a torrential rain fell and the trees of the forest danced under
the pressure of the wind. In the middle of this terrific hubbub,
adepts, immobilized and seized with a sacred terror, saw a very
old Black woman standing up. She sang, danced, and whirled
a big knife around her head. All eyes were magnetized on her.
A black pig was introduced and with a vivid gesture the inspired
priestess thrust her knife into the animal's body. Blood gushed
out. This they took and distributed to all, who drank and
pledged to execute the orders of Boukman.
At this time Voodoo abandoned its secrecy and appeared openly as an arm
for the revolutionary ideology. Haitian historians unanimously recognize the
ideological and political ferment that Voodoo precipitated. In the most difficult
moments of the struggles for freedom, slaves found courage and hope in the
Voodoo spirits. In his book Une Explication Philologique du Vodou,
Dorsainvil, quoted by Rigaud23, said that Voodoo is one of the great-
est social facts of our history. Colonists tolerated all the noisy dances of
the slaves, but they feared Voodoo ceremonies. They were apprehensive of this
cult for its mysterious allure and realized that it might be a strong element of
cohesion for the slaves. They were right, indeed, for it was in the middle of
Voodoo ceremonies that the great revolt of the slaves of Saint-Domingue was
Since Voodoo had now appeared as an organized religion, the Catholic
Church lost ground. After the first revolts of the slaves, priests of the Catholic
clergy were divided. Some followed gangs of revolting slaves. Among these
were some powerful priests of Saint-Domingue such as Father Sulpice, the
Vice-Prefect of the colony and Pastor of Trou, Father Phillippe, and Reverend
De La Haye, pastor of Dondon. To cap this slow death, on December 30, 1790,
Sonthonax, one of the three commissioners sent to Saint-Domingue by Napolean
Bonaparte, published among the laws voted by the Legislative Assembly one
which revoked the power of Apostolic delegates in the French Islands.
Sonthonax argued that the independence of the French government was
irreconcilable with the spiritual jurisdiction and the authority that the bishop of
Home exercised in the French colonies by delegates known as Apostolic
Prefects. Hence, church authority came to be tolerated less than ever.
Sonthonax had argued that religion constituted a State within the State.
After the disestablishment of the Apostolic Prefects, he turned his weapons
against the Voodoo sectors. Having returned to Saint-Domingue with the third
civil commission, he organized in the region of Cap-Francais "a rural police
charged with eradicating the Voodoo cult" 24.
SWithout Voodoo, no independence," said Price-Mars in a communication
to the Societe d'Histoire et de Georgaphie D'Haiti. It was Voodoo
indeed that allowed the slaves to unify and motivate their activities
against the colonists. Lorimer Denis and Francois Duvalier25 thought Voodoo
crystallized in the dynamism of its cultural manifestations the past of the
African, his martyrdom in the colonial hell, and the heroism which realizes
the miracle of 1804.
From the Independence to Concordat: the era of the Great Schism
During the war of independence, slaves were mixed with the maroon
population under the command ofToussaint L'Overture. After his deportation
to France by the mercenaries of Napoleon Bonaparte, Dessalines became the
principal leader of the slaves. We now realize these circumstances brought
about a new syncretism: Voodoo practised openly by maroons mixed with the
Voodoo practised secretly by the plantation slaves. A true ethnic mixture and a
growing migration of freemen caused Toussaint L'Overture to demand that
everybody wear his identity card.
After the independence followed dark days. Political circumstances did not
help the organization of the Catholic Church. The new nation had to organize its
frontiers and remain on the alert in case the French tried to invade the country.
As Remy Bastien pointed out:
Surrounded by slave colonies, Haiti became a black sheep.
Furthermore, the nation's first ruler, Dessalines, concerned about
a possible return of the French, decided to maintain only
limited commercial relations with the outside world. At one
time he even considered razing all the coastal cities except a
few sea-ports and concentrating the decimated population in
the mountains where defence would be easier.
Very few priests lived in Haiti after the revolution for independence. The
majority emigrated with the colonists. Comhaire remarked that "on the day of
independence, January 1, 1804, there were no more than half a dozen priests
known to remain in the new country." An observer of the events, Father
Lecum28 testifies to the religious situation of Haiti under the government
All the churches, except those of Port-au-Prince, Saint-Marc and
Cayes, are burnt already; the three which remain will certainly
be burnt also. All missionaries except five have died of illness
or have been murdered. In most parishes, Negroes took pieces
of holy ornaments and sacred vessels, and though they don't
know how to read, they administered all the sacraments and
even celebrated masses.
Because of the rupture of the Church with Rome, the chiefs of the State
tried to organize the Church as best they could. Presidents unanimously
recognized the Catholic Church as the religion of the State. Voodoo has never
been recognized in the constitutions as the religion of the Haitian people.
Concerning the lack of priests, the historian Madiou reported that "not having
found priests to preside in many places, Dessalines declared himself chief of
the Church and created priests: a drum player of the Dessources legion has
been named pastor of Saint-Marc."
During his reign, Christophe was considered chief of the Church. He was
fascinated by the pomp of the Catholic Church and to give more prestige to his
throne, by the Constitution of 1811 he recognized the Catholic religion as the
religion of the State. Jacob30 mentions a royal edict creating an archi-episcopal
seat in Cap-Haitien, giving the archbishop of Haiti the title of grand almoner to
the King, and creating three bishops' houses in the cities of Gonaives, Port-au-
Prince and Cayes.
During the period of the great schism with Rome, Protestant churches
established themselves in Haiti. Baptists, Methodists and Episcopalians were
among the most important. However, these churches played an insignificant
role in the social structure of Haiti due perhaps both to the establishment of the
(atholic Church and to the small number of practitioners.
Because of the lack of organization in the official Church, Voodoo took
more and more root as the religion of the masses. It lost its messianic and poli-
tical orientation now that no immediate enemies confronted it. Voodoo adap-
ted to the circumstances. With the system of Lakou*, Voodoo was influenced
by its infrastructure and social organization. The agrarian reform and the new
agricultural system favoured the development of a series of Voodoo sects which
evolved from the primitive Voodoo dogma but with local and regional
particularities, corresponding to various familial and regional traditions.
The coming of Lakou caused Voodoo to change from a secret to a
familial orientation, post-independence Voodoo is a familial cult which reflects
the organization of the Lakou which is characterized by the gathering of few
nuclear families under the authority of the patriach, the "pe". The patriarch
was also a religious chief of this extended family. The placage (common law
marriage) flourished and the practice of Voodoo became the cult of the
Elements of Christianity penetrated Voodoo32. Some pretres-savants
(bush priests) functioned also as Voodoo priests. Voodoo always exploited
Christian rites. Even when presidents indicated that they were against
Voodoo, it was always a question of political tactics to avoid bad propa-
ganda outside. Indeed, foreign journalists exploited Voodoo to criticize
Haiti and to present the country as a Voodoo land where African cannibalism
The precarious state of the economy, the lack of hospitals, the high rate of
illiteracy, the people's strong belief that spirits despotically governed the
country, the disorganization of the official church are some factors that explain
the familial cult of Voodoo in the Lakou. Lakou people continued to offer
sacrifices to the spirits for the gift of independence and for the continuance of
freedom. Voodoo not only united the people with those who had been left behind
in Africa and with those who had been killed in the war for liberation, it also
brought them solace in their illnesses and nourished their faith in life.
FROM THE CONCORDAT TO THE PRESENT TIME
After a series of efforts by the Haitain governments to re-establish
the Catholic religion in Haiti, a Concordat was signed on March 28, 1860,
whereby Geffrard, the president of Haiti ended the schism. The bourgeoisie
wanted to launch the country on the path of Europeanization. So the French
clergy were invited to return to organize the schools and churches and found
new schools. Since independence, this was the first immigration of foreign
priests and religious educators to come to Haiti to take care of the spiritual
needs of the inhabitants.
The clergy began timidly to open a propaganda campaign against Voodoo.
Intellectual Haitians aided them because the Voodoo practices gave the country
a bad reputation outside. But they thought that with the education of the people
and the growing urbanization, Voodoo would probably become extinct
eventually. It was taken for granted that Europeanizing the country was
necessary as a means of becoming a functional part of western civilization.
The elite who recognized Haiti as an intellectual province of France were
afraid of things African and of everything that linked Haiti to Africa. The
collaborators of the Magazine La Ronde assumed the task of orienting the
masses to what they considered was truly Haitian-a French education,
Christianity and the adoption of mores and customs proper to people of the
Western Hemisphere. The book of Hannibal Price, De la Rehabilitation
de la Race Noire, published in 1900, was a reaction against this elite belief.
The lack of discernment by the French clergy in using a language that only
ten per cent of the population could understand did not help deepen the
Christianization of Voodooists. The parochial organization also reflected a logic
quite strange to the Haitian realities, for parishes were founded only in the
cities and this accentuated the division between urban and rural people.
The domain of the land began to be changed due to the historical evolution
of the country and to the particular interests of individuals. Thus there occurred
a gradual decadence of Lakou which in turn influenced the Voodoo. A certain
number of important factors explain this decadence of Lakou. As Paul
Moral33 noted "the old Lakou is on the way to complete disintegration. The
rapidly increasing population, the extension of land clearance, the successive
divisions of the land have been the causes of a new organization of the house-
holds. In fact contemporaneous generations went to live far from the father-
The disappearance of Lakou caused both a new form of land tenure and
structure based on the predominance of small pieces of land and also the end of
the extended family. Voodoo connected with Lakou began a new evolution by
becoming the expression of the solidarity of the village. At this time Voodoo
became truly independent. The houngan Voodoo priest was no longer the
patriarch of the extended family, nor did he have any biological ties with those
who come to his sanctuary although he still continued to have a spiritual
authority over them.
American occupation of Haiti was the occasion of a new appearance of
Voodoo as messianic movement. Leaders such as Charlemagne Peralte,
however, who fought the marine corps had no strong connection with Voodoo, at
least not officially. The occupation was the occasion for the Haitian
intellectuals to become aware of the vitality of Voodoo in Haiti and to realize
that the true Haitians are the peasants.
In 1928, Jean Price-mars, a young physician, aligned himself with the
peasants and extolled "African" values. His book, Ainsi Parla l'Oncle,
stirred many disciples to follow him. Around the Ecole d'Ethnologie of
the State University of Haiti, nationalist and Africanophile intellectuals
rehabilitated the folklore and Voodoo again found a privileged place. The
partisans of the Voodoo cult came out from their secrecy. The reactionary
European clergy, encouraged by Mulatto governments, began a violent attack
on Voodoo. In 1941 began the well-known anti-superstition campaign, a kind of
religious inquisition in the medieval spirit. The peasants' objects of cult were
violently seized and burnt.
From the Concordat to the present time, Voodoo has always been utilized
by politicians to add to their own popularity. Bastien34 is right by saying that:
Voodoo had become an indispensable ingredient of the political
cuisine. A chief who was not credited with supernatural power
was lacking "something" Worse, if he neglected Vodoun, he
was depriving himself of a sure source of intelligence, since his
opponents eventually would have to court some prestigious
houngan when the time for a coup came. If the houngan was on
the side of the authorities, he would play informant. The im-
portant fact is not whether these warlords believed in Vodoun
and its efficacy. The crux of the matter is that in order to play
the game of Real-politik they could not ignore the usefulness
of Vodoun as a means of control and prestige.
Although Voodoo has always been related to politics in Haiti, it is the
government of Duvalier, as the ultimate point of contradiction intrinsic to the
Haitian political system, that has most manipulated Voodoo. After expelling the
leaders of the Catholic and Episcopal Churches and allowing public Voodoo
dances, Duvalier named himself spiritual chief of the nation. The new
Hougans are the Tontons-Macoutes. In order to organize Voodoo ceremonies
it is necessary to be a Tonton-Macoute. These Tonton-Macoutes have a double
authority, religious and military: "ceremonies are organized, the drums
beat and people dance, but the ritual is under government control. The
government orders it and pays for it. Duvalier does not love Voodoo, he
only uses it. 35
Contradictions intrinsic to the slavery system were the cause of the failure of
missionaries to evangelize the masses of slaves. Although the colonists could
have control over the material life, they did not have control over the religious
symbols and religious life of the slaves. Despite the interdictions of code
noir against slave meetings, despite the inhuman plantation life, slaves did
not forget to offer sacrifices nor to pray to the gods of their ancestors. In this
disorganized "Camp de tartare" atmosphere in Saint-Domingue, the slaves
secretly continued to perform religious ceremonies in their huts and in their
secret meetings. During this period we noted the passage from the diversity of
ethnic cults to a syncretism harmonizing different ethnic aspects. "Colonial
Voodoo was mostly a secret cult", a form of resistance to the white
By the time the slaves achieved a group consciousness of their conditions and
worked for their emancipation, the voodoo cult became their centre of unity and
also a training ground for leadership. Since Voodoo as practised by maroons in
their settlements was more consistent or organized, it became the core around
which the new syncretism was formed. Voodoo was at that time a religion with
messianic goals and the symbol of resistance and expressed an ideology of
liberation. From Voodoo sects there emerged some of the men who led the
struggle for the independence of Haiti.
After independence, even if Voodoo had no official status for political reasons,
it continued to be the religion of the masses. Until 1860, there was a period of
great turmoil and the Catholic Church passed through a period of schism. With
the agrarian reform, begun by Dessalines, appeared Lakou characterized by
the extended family, indivisible land holdings, and patriarchal regime. During
iill this period, "Voodoo was closely connected to Lakou and became a familial
cult", symbolizing the solidarity of the extended family.
Since the Concordat, with the arrival of French priests and with the pro-
French tendencies of the intellectuals, the first silent opposition against Voodoo
emerged in a violent anti-superstition campaign. The reaction of the members
of the movement of Negritude to the destruction of the cultural patrimony of the
people, is well known, particularly that of the Haitian Communist Party
The decadence of Lakou manifested by the passage of the extended
family to the nuclear family units, the fragmentation of property into small
parts and the disappearance of patriarchal authority helped cause Voodoo to
have an independent status and then to become mostly "the religion of
the village symbolizing the solidarity of the village people" Being no longer
connected to the Lakou, Voodoo became a public religion-unofficial,
superficially persecuted, but officially tolerated.
1. Price-Mars. Jean: De la Prehistoire d'Afrique a l'Histoire d'Haiti, Port-au-Prince,
Pg. 42. 1962.
2. Vaissiere, Pierre: Saint-Domingue (1629 1789). La society et la vie creole
sous l'Ancien Regime. Paris, pg. 21. 1909.
3. Malenfant: Des colonies, et particulierement de celle de Saint-Domingue. Paris
1814, pg. III.
4. Wimpffen, Baron de: Saint-Domingue a la veille de la Revolution. Souvenirs
du Baron de Wimpffen, publies par Albert Savine. Paris 1911.
5. d'Auberteuil, Hilliard: Considerations sur l'etat present de la Colonie Francaise de
Saint-Domingue. 2 volumes. Paris 1776 1777 pg. 90.
6. Moreau de Saint-Mery. Louis Frederic Elie: Description topographique, physique,
civil, politique et historique de la parties franchise de I'Ile de Saint-Domingue.
Paris, pgs. 47 54.
7. Labat, J. B.: Nouveau voyage aux Iles de I'Amerique. 2 volumes. La Haye.
1693 1705, t. 2: pg. 38.
8. Du Terte, J. B.: Histoire general des Antilles habitues par des Francals. 2 vol.
Paris. pg. 501. 1967.
9. Moreau de Saint-Mery, Louis Frederic Elie: Description topographique, physique,
civil, politique et historique de la partle franchise de I'Ile de Saint-Dominque.
Paris. 1958: pg. 55.
10. Du Pere Margat, missionnaire de la Compagnie de Jesus, au Procureur general
des missionsede la meme Compagnie aux lies de l'Amerique, Lettres edifiantes
et curieuses, Memoires d'Amerique, tome 4. Lyon 1729: pg. 403.
11. Lettre des Peres Jesuites aux Administrateurs de Saint-Domingue le 25. 7. 1708.
An. Col. B. 31, pg. 182.
12. James, C. L. R. The Black Jacobins New York 1963: pg. 32.
13. Dessalles, Adrien: Histoire general des Antilles. 5 volumes. Paris 1847 1848,
3rd vol. pg. 290.
14. Debien, Gabriel: La christianisation des eselaves aux Antilles Francaises aux
XVIIIe siecle, Revue d'Histoire de l'Amerique Francaise vol. XX. no. 4, Mars
1967. pg. 554.
15. Petit, Emilien: Traite sur le gouvernement des esclaves. 2 vol. Paris 1777, Vol. I:
16. James, C. L. R.: The Black Jacobins. New York. 1963: pg. 9 10.
17. Gired-Chantrans: Voyage d'un Suisse dans differences colonies d'Amerique.
Neuchatel. 1785: pg. 137.
18. James, C. L. R.: The Black Jacobins. New York. 1963: pg. 10.
19. Moreau de Saint-Mery, Louis Frederic Elie: Description topographique, physique,
civil, politique et historique de la partle franchise de l'lle de Saint-Domingue.
20 Parrinder, Geoffrey: Theistic beliefs of the Yoruba and Ewe peoples of West
Africa. African ideas of God: A Symposium, London, 1950, pg. 231; West
African Religion, London. 1969, pg. 35.
21. Mennesson-Rigaud, Odette: Le role du Vaudou dans l'Independence d'Haiti,
Presence Aficaine, no. 18 19, Fev-Mai 1958. pg. 55.
22. Dorsainvil, J. C.: Manuel d'Histoire d'Haiti. Port-au-Prince. 1949, pg. 66 67.
23. Rigaud, Milo: La tradition Voudoo et le Voudoo Haitian, Paris. 1953, pg. 61.
24. Moral, Paul: Le paysan haitien, (etude sur la vie rurale en Haiti), Paris. 1961,
25. Denis, Lorimer and Francois Duvalier: L'evolution stadiale du Voudoo, Bulletin
du Bureau d'Ethnologie, Port-au-Prince, no. 3, Feb.1944, pp. 9 32.
26 36 These references were not available at press time.
Immediately after the Independence of Haiti, with the agrarian reform begun by
Dessalines, a new form of family life organization emerged: it was the Lakou. The
Lakou represents a compound in which the (elderly) father lived surrounded by
his sons, single or married. All these homes gave to the Lakou the appearance of a
little village. In the Lakou, the authority of the old father was uncontested. On the
religious level, Lakou is connected to the Golden Age of Voodoo.
PROBLEMS OF IDENTITY FOR THE BLACK MAN
IN CARIBBEAN LITERATURES
The study of the African presence in Caribbean literature poses numerous
problems. Among them, there is one which seems to me definitive "the
problem of the identity of the black man." I believe that in these islands we are
entitled to talk of a "literature of identification" which expresses itself in
French, English and Spanish. I believe that the passionate search for this
identification is the first unifying element which presents itself when one
compares the major lines of our diverse literatures. The same preoccupation
with the idea of coming to terms with oneself is evident in the works of the
majority of our 20th century writers-James, Roumain, Cesaire, Guillen,
Price-Mars, Brierre, Fanon, Damas, Alexis, Lamming, Pedroso, Niger,
Tirolien, Glissant, Harris etc.
During the last 30 or 40 years black poets, novelists and essayists in the area
have been obsessed by the same theme: to seek and declare our identity as
Martinicans, Jamaicans, Cubans, Guadeloupeans, Trinidadians, Haitians,
Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, in short as Antilleans, West Indians. Poems,
novels, theatrical works, sociological and ethnological essays as well as
historical research have all posed the same anguished questions -In what way
will the black man of the Caribbean come to terms with himself, convert
himself to what he is, find his true self in society and in history? How will he
make the synthesis of the diverse historical components of his culture? Under
what conditions will he eventually decolonize the socio-economic structures
and the psychological structures which have made life in the Caribbean one of
the greatest scandals of the 20th century.
These fundamental questions born out of the day to day experiences of our
different islands, have so far found effective answers only in Cuba. In fact, in
the other islands, men and women have not yet been able to recover their social
character, their profound personality, their humanity and beauty which
colonization has alienated. Literature and the arts, just as science and
education do not meet the immediate and future needs of our peoples. Our
cultures continue to grow to the rhythm of western neo-colonialism and lack
the possibility of advancing in accordance with their own internal dynamism.
With the sole exception of Cuba, the development of our nations is not conceived
in terms of a decolonization of the alienating structures of the past. Our islands
are victims of malnutrition, unemployment, illiteracy, intellectual under-
employment and cultural hibernation.
We are in the midst of a divided world, one torn apart by every type of
archaism and socio-economic incongruities which freeze the forces of creation
And so, in order to understand the significance and the sociological and
anthropological value of the problem of our identity one must place it in the
history of social relations in our islands. The struggle for this identity, long
before finding expression in our literatures, has had its place in all stages of the
history of our societies. This fight has taken many different forms in relation to
the historical conditions in each island. The problem of identity is closely linked
to a central fact in Caribbean history Slavery. And what was slavery but
anti-identity by definition? Slavery "depersonalised" the African man who
was shipped to the West Indies. The principal object of this means of production
was to extract from slave labour the energy to create material riches. The
black man was in that way, converted into a coal-man, combustible-man, a
This process of "cosificacion" (converting a man into a thing), which is
inherent to slave labour, involves another complementary process-the
cultural assimilation of the colonized West Indian. The colonial system did
everything possible to make of us, West Indians, Anglo-Saxons and Latin types
with black skins. It was intended to make the West Indian lose not bnly the
worthy use of his human energy in his work, but also his essential truths, his
culture, his identity and himself. In our case, just as in the case of any other
Negro in America, the famous "I am another" of Arthur Rimbaud became "I
am a white Anglo-Saxon product, I am a white Latin product." I am coal,
petroleum, prison, ghetto, and the use which was made of my labour force was
creating powers such as sugar, coffee, cotton and other products found in
abundance in colonial markets, all of which were alien to me. This fantastic
process of assimilation and conversion into a thing implied the total loss of my
identity as a man, the psychological destruction of my being. It is no mere
chance that the myth of the "Zombi" (jumbee or duppy) was born precisely in
the West Indies, since the history of his archipelago is that of a process of the
accelerated "zombificacion" of the black man.
Having robbed me of my creative energy, I was robbed of my past, my
history, my psychological integrity, my legends and my most secret beauties as
a human being. Subsequently, when slavery had already been abolished, I was
still kept, as a West Indian, at the point where it was impossible to work out a
synthesis of different African and European components of my culture. By
means of a frightening acculturative pressure, everything was done, before my
very eyes, to make the African substratum of my life appear unworthy of the
human race. I was made to have a terrible opinion of myself. I was forced to
deny a decisive part of my social being, to detest my face, my colour, the
peculiarities of my culture, the specific reactions of my sensibility in the face of
life, love, death and art. And all this was also done so that I might idealize the
colour, history and culture of my white masters!
Through alienating work, in colonial society, I was made to be not only a
stranger to myself, but hostile to myself, ashamed of myself, enemy of myself.
Alienation was carried to the level of my black skin to which was given a
metaphysical, aesthetic and moral significance: in fact, the colour of the black
West Indies was changed, as far as the black man was concerned, into a source
of permanent frustration, and there was created in our society a real escalade
of scorn which showed up its terror between the whites on the one hand,
resembling the splendour of day, and the blacks on the other, resembling the
shadows of night. Colour became an impassable barrier between the generic
character of the West Indian Negro and its realization in history. Whereas the
alienation of the white labourer in a capitalist society is linked to the economic
and social scheme of work, the alienation of the Negro penetrated into the most
intimate structures of his personality. Slavery and the equally oppressive socio-
economic structures which have followed it in the West Indies, have been
fountains of psychological traumas which have profoundly affected the
personality of the West Indian Negro.
How have Caribbean peoples reacted to these totalitarian limitations, so as
to avoid the absolute wreck of their identity? How have they resisted this pro-
cess of depersonalization? As far as possible, they have, like the maroons who
fled from the estates, evaded the.techniques of total assimilation employed by
.white" powers. The socio-cultural and socio-psychological history of black
West Indians (and of the black Americas in general) is largely the history of the
ideological "ciamarronaje" (escape) which has allowed the West Indies to not
re-interpret the West through an African mentality, as Melville Herskovits has
believed, but to adapt itself to the conditions of the class struggle in the region,
transforming the popular, Western, cultural schemata into serving our
emotional needs which are profoundly tributary of Africa. This cultural escape
is an original form of rebellion which has manifested itself in religion, in
folklore, in art and singularly in Caribbean literatures.
The major West Indian writers, be they writers in English, French or Spanish
(like those who write in our vernacular tongues), are "cimarrones" (escapees)
from western culture. This general escape has not been equally effective in all
areas of life. The West Indian Negro has not been able to reject the masters'
language, although in some cases, as the existence of creole in Haiti,
Guadeloupe and Martinique proves, the linguistic escape has been crowned
with success. As is well known, language is an important element in the identity
of any man. For us to be fully ourselves, it would be necessary to be able to
think and create in languages that are Haitian, Martinician, Jamaican,
Barbadian and so on, which would be able to give us a more accurate image of
ourselves than that which we have when using instruments such as French.
English or Spanish, thinking apparatus which, by force of acculturation, we
have had to add to our experience and which we must always conquer, to our
own advantage and risk, to express our identity.
It is not always an easy operation, and Leon Lalea was right when he spoke
trying to conquer with words from France
this heart which I received from Senegal
The West Indian Negro's cultural resistance has, on the contrary. won
indisputable victories in religion, folklore, music and dance. And yet, except in
the case of Haiti, it has failed in regard to economic and political systems.
Likewise, African techniques, statuary art, wood and ivory sculpture. fabrics
etc. have not been able to resist the onslaught of European technology Material
expressions of African cultures in the West Indies have been submerged by
colonization. In Haiti, the colonial West was, at a given time, resisted and all
its values. The Haitian Revolution of 1804 was the only case of a successful
rejection recorded in West Indian history, not only on the cultural plane, but
also on the political and economic planes.
Nevertheless, it was not able to prevent the myth of assimilation from re-
establishing itself later in the society which emerged out of the liberation of the
slaves; in fact, it even found indigenous promoters. This demonstrates the
great complexity of decolonization, as well as the need to realize,
simultaneously, the liberation of the socio-economic structures and the
psychological structures of consciousness.
However, apart from the grave limitations which we have just pointed out,
the Revolution of the "Black Jacobins" of Haiti has had some cultural
significance and value which have not been sufficiently highlighted. For the
first time since the "Diaspora" of the Negroes in America, the problem of
identity was being explored in its theoretical and practical senses. And so, the
numerous revolts and uprisings of slaves which spread throughout all our
islands were also attempts carried out by our negritudee" to liberate itself.
This concept of negritudee", then, explains the operation by which people of
black skin in America, in search of their identity, have become aware of the
validity of their African heritage latent in our societies, aware of the aesthetic
value of the black race, aware of the specific peculiarities of some aspects of
our alienation, and aware also of the need to come to a full realization of
themselves, in close union and solidarity with the oppressed whites, in a society
freed from all the alienating dogmas of capitalism, beginning with the
despicable racial dogma.
The social reality which nurtures the concept of negritudee", just like the
struggle for our identification, existed long before the black intellectuals of this
century began to express them in literary, historical, sociological and
ethnological works. In fact, efforts in the recognition and revaluation of the
African heritage date from the years immediately after the victory of the
Haitian Revolution of 1804. This successful slave revolution-the only one
known in human history-was, in itself, a glorious act of identification for the
black man. It showed to the entire world that liberty and human dignity also
have a black face in the history of civilizations. It further highlighted in
universal life, the personality of the black man, by giving full exposure to great
men like Toussaint L'Ouverture and the other heroes of the early independence
era in Haiti.
The Haitian Revolution also allowed the Negro, wherever he was in America,
to acquire a new vision of himself and to begin to destroy all the cliches and
stereotypes of the negro which had been created entirely by colonization. In the
Haitian revolutionary context, the psychological mechanisms and motives of
self-integration and self-conquest could play an effectual role. In view of this
revolutionary experience of the Haitian people, identification manifests itself
as a social and a psychological process which allows the Negro.to understand
that his misfortunes are those of a social class oppressed by capital and that his
fight ought to be, above everything else, a national struggle for liberation. Such
an awareness, though timid, can be found in the works of some nineteenth
century Haitian publicists who are the precursors of the movement of ideas and
sensibility which later became known as "Negritude" With regard to them,
one can speak of a "pre-negritude" movement just as one would say pre-
renaissance, since in the cultural and literary history of the Caribbean,
negritudee" was, at a certain time, regarded as a real Renaissance.
Before analysing the value and significance of the concept of negritudee" in
Caribbean literatures, I would like to deal with another literary phenomenon
which is also linked to the problem of the identity of our peoples. It is the
question of negrismo. Very often people confuse negrismo and negritude,
but, in fact, they are two different cultural entities. Their aesthetic
and sociological value is not the same. "Negrismo" in West Indian Liter-
atures has been, primarily, a movement for white intellectuals who,
drawing on the works of ethnologists on African survivals in the New World,
have used different Afro-Antillean folklores as their source of inspiration.
After the first world war, many white poets and artists made use of rhythmic
and onomatopoeic elements and sensory factors belonging to the oral literature
of the Negro. Some, in search of the picturesque, and out of sympathy, and we
might even say humanitarianism, for the Negroes, or in the worst cases-out
of the simple curiosity of a funny tourist. These artists proposed to introduce
the "Negro theme" into their works, so that "Negrismo" was only a literary
Its antecedents, on the other hand, date far back into literary history. One
can, in fact, find features of "negrismo" and "mulatismo" (works about
Mulattoes) in the works of Lope, Gongora, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, Victor
Hugo, Lamartine, Longfellow, Blake etc. In like manner, in contemporary
literature, many famous European and American artists undertook to add
a fine "black cord" to the "white bow" of the Christian West.
And yet, in the works of some white artists in the West Indies, namely, Luis
Pales Matos of Puerto Rico, Ramon Giiirao, Emilio Ballagas, Jose Z. Tallet and
Alejo Carpentier of Cuba, "negrismo" acquires, at times, the value of real
acculturation of the African heritage "Negrismo" is symptomatic of a change in
the spiritual state of white, liberal intellectuals. It is a kind of timid recognition,
tinged with humour and irony, of the value of the African contribution to our
cultures. It represents a real step forward in relation to the "negrista"
literature which appeared in the Southern United States in the last century, or
even in the very West Indies, where, under the mask of finding inspiration in
Afro-Americhn folklore, they did nothing but insolently glorify all the
stereotypes regarding Negro life which, after several centuries of slavery, had
been disseminated throughout the continent.
In twentieth century West Indian "negrismo" the Negro is no longer
represented as the clown of universal history; he is no longer an object of
denigration and scorn. On the contrary, his specific cultural features are now
integrated with an effort to renovate poetry. Nevertheless, the main criticism
of the "negrismo" is that it limited itself to a superficial knowledge of the
African heritage and failed to preserve anything more than the formal and
folkloric aspects of the Negroes' condition in America. In "negrismo" there is
neither rebellion nor anger.
The historical situation of the West Indian Negro does not emerge in
"negrismo". This comment is not the result of an internal experience nor even
an anthropological notion. For this reason one can justifiably say that between
*negrismo" and negritudee", there exists every qualitative difference that
exists between an ordinary wick and the wick of a dynamite.
On their side, the poets and writers of negritudee" have tried to take a
profound look at the past and at the present of the West Indian Negro.
"Negritude" is, therefore, the fact of an awareness of the historical situation
created around Negroes. There is, in negritudee", a conscious and deliberate
pre-occupation with the destruction of the myths and stereotypes of the Negro.
And this ontological pre-occupation is present in the works of two or three
generations of West Indian authors.
But, admittedly, there are as many forms of negritudee" as there are
varying West Indian societies. This is due to the fact that, the search for iden-
tification, of which the negritudee" movement is the literary and artistic
expression, is oriented by different lines of force, as it enters into the concrete
conditions of the class struggle in each of our societies. "Negritude" converts
itself into justification when it denies the diversity of the material conditions of
evolution of our West Indian societies and it considers the creative sensibility of
the Negroes as a homogeneous cultural block, interchangeable in its expressive
manifestations. The African heritage, after prolonged cohabitation with
cultural elements originating in different European countries France,
England, Spain and Holland and submerged in different realities, has given
rise to psychic patterns, psychological peculiarities and states of consciousness
which are as different from Africa as from Europe and which, among
themselves, are different. In spite of their common source (African-Europe) the
cultures of Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Barbados,
Trinidad, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic as well as Brasil, Rio de la
Plata and other Caribbean peoples, present national characteristics of their
own because of their historical formation in different territories, in the bosom
of an economic and social life which responds to a number of specific factors.
This does not deny, however, the existence of numerous common features in the
psychology of the different West Indian peoples.
Among the features that establish the cultural unity of the West Indies in
history, there are two which seem to me fundamental. In the first place, black
West Indian men do not know what is their true identity. In the second place, the
history of our diverse and singular cultures follows the same process of a
syncretic elaboration of cultural elements taken from Africa and Europe. These
two focal points of civilization are present in social consciousness and in the
customs and traditions of all West Indian people, like the mixed syncretic
expression, in constant change, of diverse conditions of social existence which
we have known, from the days of the slave trade to the present. This is why it is
an error, when one speaks of negritudee," to set aside this concept of a socio-
economic development peculiar to each of our peoples. Such an error is the
result of a false interpretation of the dialectical and internal relations which
exist between the many factors and indices which define the historical category
called a nation. It becomes evident, after analysis, that belonging to the same
race, or the colour of the skin or the shape of the nose or lips, or the -diaspora'
which resulted from the slave trade, are not the factors which determine the
national character of each of our islands, but rather, the concrete conditions of
life in each island, the conditions of historical development which belong to
each West Indian community. I repeat, Africa and Europe manifest their
presence through a complex of perceptions, reflections and representations of
psychological peculiarities, of specific forms of alienation, and of rhythms,
(lances and songs which are translated into the manifestations of our sensibility
and our psychic life, as the result of a long process of cultural --mestizaje"
(mixing up) and syncretism.
There are, then, various West Indian forms of negritudee", just as there
are various African forms of negritudee" In an exhaustive study of "negri-
tude" it is necessary to distinguish, sometimes in the same country, different
currents and various divergent tendencies. The unifying value of negritudee"
lies, not in the colour of the skin, but in a concrete historical situation.
"Negritude" is the modern equivalent of the old "cimarronaje"
In several West Indian authors negritudee" has been and is still so a
vigorous form of protest which incorporates the revolutionary thought of our
era and which completes the articulation of Marxism to our West Indian
realities, adding to it the knowledge of our historical uniqueness and,
consequently, the traumatic experience of slavery, colonization and racism.
There is a right wing negritudee" and a leftist one. There is a progressive
negritudee" which, taking into account the dual character of alienation among
oppressed black peoples, appears in the history of decolonization like the
emotional response of the exploited and humiliated black man to the total scorn
of the neo-colonial western world. There is a negritudee" that expounds the
need to rise above all the alienations of man by means of a revolutionary praxis.
There is a negritudee" that lives the socialist experience more intensely than
the racial experience and which fights so that everywhere, an end will be put to
the epidermal interpretation of the historical situation of men as colonialism
has done in the case of Negroes. There is a negritudee" that affirms that the
skin of all men, no matter what the colour, shares the same privilege of light,
because "all men are men." There is a negritudee" which vigorously places
itself in the historical context of the Revolution in the Third World grouping and
which its human requirements to the immediate facts of the tricontinental and
global struggle of underdeveloped peoples against neo-colonialism and
imperialism. There is a negritudee" which outlines to black peoples their duty
to carry out the revolution in order to be able to affirm definitively their identity
in world history.
However, negritude" as a diversified movement of ideas, as an ideology
with multiple currents does not always present itself in a progressive and
revolutionary form. On the contrary, it can be said that while in Africa and
the West Indies a so-called pseudo-decolonization is taking place, negritudee"
tends to be transformed into dangerous dogma, into a new form of mystification
There exists an irrational reactionary and mystic version of negritudee"
which evaluates its projects in the sphere of ideological imposture and serves
as a cultural base for neo-colonialist penetration into our countries. It has to do
with a new myth which deliberately tends to hide the socioeconomic factors
which have conditioned the situation of Negroes in our societies of alienation
and oppression. This negritudee" does not take into consideration the radical
disorder of social relations in the Third World of Africa, Asia, the West Indies
and Latin America in general. This negritudee" has ceased to be a legitimate
form of rebellion opposed to the shameful manifestations of racist dogma and
has presented itself as a mystic operation which tends to dissimulate the
presence, on the historical scene, in Africa and the West Indies, of the black
bourgeoisie who, in Haiti for example, long established as a dominant class, try
to disguise the real nature of social relations. Those black and mulatto bour-
geoisie have perfected the mechanisms of oppression and the alienating net-
works inherited from the colonial system and cause to fall back on them, all
the barbarism which, in the course of the last centuries, dehumanized the
history of the peoples of the Third World. They indigenized the violent acts
of the old colonizers and practised all the obscene intoxication of tyranny and
If you want a shocking example of that kind of negritudee" take a look at
the state into which the tyranny of Francois Duvalier has plunged Haiti. Look
at the way in which Negroes are assassinating fellow Negroes! Look at the
bloody disasters which take place in Haiti under the mandate of a totalitarian
negritudee" which has nothing for which to envy Hitler's national-socialism.
The image which Haitians have of their country today is no longer that of a
mythic motherland of negritudee." Even if it is true that Haiti was the country
"where negritudee' first sprang up," it is now the West Indian land where
negritudee" is a sinister mythology which forces our people to live on their
knees. What happened to negritudee" is what happens to any ideology which
becomes a dogma used to disguise the real interests and motives of the struggle
of social classes.
In Senghor, for example, negritudee" embraces realities which are very
different from those which noursh the work of Damas, Jacques Roumain,
Cisaire or Guill4n. Far from being a Negro-African humanism as he would
like it to be presented, Leopold Sedar Senghor's negritudee" is a mythology
which plays into the hands of neo-colonialism in Africa. In fact, in Senghor's
eyes, negritudee" is an immutable state of the social existence of the Negro;
that is to say, it is, in essence, a predetermined substance which 40,000 years
ago could have been found in the "steatopygous statuettes of Grimaldi's
negroid women." With Senghor, negritudee" ceases to be a historical category,
an ideology of decolonization, and becomes an alienating dogma.
Senghor's thought is set in an abstract context, far from the hard realities
in which the peoples of Africa are trying, in some cases with arms in hand, to
conquer their real personality in history. For Senghor and his African and West
Indian disciples, the best defence and illustration of negritudee" is not social
revolution, but a simple recovery of the traditional values that belong to
African civilization. We are not facing a mythic Africa where only the exterior
signs of the identity of the black man are revealed, so as to conceal the socio-
economic and socio-cultural defects of the pseudo-decolonization. Basing his
thought on the outstanding Christian figure, Father Teilhard de Chardin and on
Bachelard, Senghor, in his essays on negritudee" has elaborated a kind of
cosmological romanticism, neovitalism, a mystic surrealism which he presents
as the constant content of "the inner experiences of the Negro." Senghor
transforms the future into a Senghorian museum! He establishes a complex of
metaphysical values which, according to him, he finds in all Negroes, in all
parts of the world, and which are independent of class struggle and class
structures. His inventory of negritudee" forms the basis for a pretended Negro-
African ontology. According to this Senghorian ontology, black men in their
way of life, their way of feeling, in their very being are recognizable anywhere
by the following characteristics:
(i) the natural gift of rhythm, symbol and image.
(ii) In them intuitive reason predominates, whereas the whites have the
monopoly of discursive reason.
(iii) Negroes would have an innate solidarity, collectivism and spon-
This idyllic picture of the black man does not correspond to historical
reality. We know that no race has a monopoly of rhythm, symbol or image.
These are attributes of all literatures of the pre-capitalist era. In the same way,
one could not, without falling into mystification, subordinate the historical
categories of reason to factors in any ethnic order. And if Negroes had, as
Senghor claims, a privileged devotion to human solidarity, Haitian people would
never have known eleven years of totalitarian Duvalierism, nor would Patrice
Lumumba have lost his life at the hands of Negroes in his own country. What
comes to Senghor's pen most frequently is the image of Negro-rhythm. In his
eyes, the Negro is only rhythm, emotion, intuition. It is a question of a new
stereotype of the Negro. Surely, rhythm occupies an important place in the
history of our cultures. This is one of the elements of our cultural uniqueness,
but thought, reflection and discursive reasoning are values which are seen in the
works of the best Negro writers and artists.
On the political plane, Senghor has affirmed finally that "one has to
understand clearly, that if one wishes to speak of twentieth century socialism,
that the greatest inequalities are not found among social classes within a
particular nation, but among nations, on a world scale." A quick glance at
African and West Indian societies makes it clear that this vision of the
contemporary planes, then, Senghor's negritudee" is a mythology far removed
from progressive reality, which could only cover the concept during the period
between the two world wars, when Senghor, along with Cesaire and Damas,
sought an ideology of African values, an ideology of national liberation, against
the colonial structures of oppression and alienation.
It has been said that we West Indians, represented the various stages of the
same nightmare. In fact, wherever one looks in the West Indies, one sees, not
paradise-islands, but peoples frustrated by all sorts of socio-economic and socio-
cultural aberrations. We see people stagnating in a hodge-podge of social,
technical, demographic, psychological and cultural problems. We see people
whose cultural unity is objectively visible in numerous sociological,
anthropological and literary realities, and who nevertheless, are still strangers
among themselves. Yet, today, it is from London, Paris and Washington -
\ here niany of us are still in exile that we succeed in getting a global vision of
the unity of our archipelago. We are Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, Marfinicians,
West Indians, Antilleans" etc., laid aside on the insular frontiers of the
human sub-condition. The forces of literature and art in this terrible Caribbean
Third World most times remain unproductive because they are dominated by
the coercive and violent force of under-development.
The direct, colonial presence, when being wiped out, is inclined to put in its
place structures as sterilizing as those of the past. Pseudo-elitist intellectuals,
full of cowardice and treachery humilitate national feeling and the dignity of
our peoples. Most West Indians continue to be, in the eyes of the rest of
humanity, invisible men, without an identity, Zombies who view themselves
with shame in their nostalgia for the true human condition.
In this horrible context, there is only one island that offers a different
picture Cuba. Why? The answer is clear: the Cuban people have carried out a
Revolution and their life had ceased to be a nightmare. The Cuban people have,
by themselves, become the --bakers of their life" to use an image of Jacques
Houmain's. Here, the Revolution simultaneously settled down to the task of
transforming their economic and social structures and setting in motion a
psychological process of liberation for the mass of the Cuban people. For the
first time in the twentieth century, we have in a West Indian island a social
force which liberates in the white man, the Negro and the mulatto, their
common identity, that is to say, their capacity for creativity and inversion. For
the first time, a popular power is vigorously structuring the objective
conditions of inter-racial relations based on the equality and dignity of all men.
The Cuban man, black, white or mulatto, can be married to the Truth of his life.
He has sought and found the process of social liberation and the cognitive
process which allows him to transform his life into an explosion of health,
creativity and human fraternity. The terrible opinion the Negro had of himself
and which the old social system gave him, gives way to an inner life which
effectively lives out the unity of the human race. Similarly, the inner life of the
white man is enriched by the same liberating joy. All the initiatives of the Cuban
Revolution in the various fields of culture and education are also dynamic
factors of racial integration. For the first time in the West Indies, since the
Haitian Revolution which belongs to another historical era, the struggle for the
identification of himself with himself, has become an uninterrupted social
creation, a sustained effort, an undertaking carried out in a coherent and
reflective manner. For the first time, a group of people in the West Indies knows
the foundations of their social being since their history is carried to the highest
level of tension and vitality. And so, the writer and poet who integrate
themselves into this collective and enriching experience, know right away on
what grounds to base the character of their novel or poetry.
The Revolution, in fact, is breaking the emotional alienating circuits of the
past, like those relating to racial dogma, and is creating in men reflections of
fraternity and solidarity. For the first time in history, not only West Indian
history but also in the two black Americas, the descendants of Africans have no
need to evade the dominant values since these are universal values which
release, in the entire Cuban populace, the forces of imagination and knowledge.
The black Orpheus can, today, define himself not by his blackness, but by his
objective and subjective human condition, since this West Indian Revolution is
ourselves, is our most authentic and profound identity, is a life-giving process
of recovery of all the historical components of our personality. The object of
this search, that is, our identity, is accessible to us in any society that recog-
nizes the dignity of each human being and where each one recognizes, at the
same time, the peculiarity and the universality of his condition. The problem
of identity, to be projected in literature and art, must pass through a uniting
experience of liberation. This is the joy that I wish for all of the West Indies,
so that their dignity and beauty may be restored to our brothers, once and for
all, in literature as well as in life.
(Translated by George Irish)
SOCIAL STRUCTURE, VALUES AND BUSINESS
POLICY IN THE CARIBBEAN
While business firms are readily recognized as economic units, they are
seldom seen as social systems. Yet it is possible to argue that the economic
viability of an enterprise is largely determined by the social factors that
impinge on its operation. In other words, the 'success' of a firm is perhaps just
as much a matter of making appropriate social judgements as it is one of
accurate economic analyses. If this is so, then it would mean that people's
values are certainly no less important than the depth of their pockets.
Indeed this idea is so self-evident that in most situations it is simply taken
for granted: that is, the pertinent social issues are seldom articulated or
examined, and are generally treated as assumptions rather than as problems.
Very few businessmen would venture to establish a firm in a society of which
they are ignorant knowing nothing of its culture, its language, its family
structure and pattern of stratification, the way it measures time, its religion,
the functions performed by each sex, its political system and so on. Yet most
businessmen are not consciously aware that they are in fact operating their
firms by virtue of their familiarity (presumed or otherwise) with these
matters. Hence sociological considerations often remain hidden and are pulled
into the light only when there is a patent need to adjust to sudden and
unanticipated changes in social behaviour. And this occurs with relative
frequency in societies like those in the Caribbean which are seeking for new
orientations in an effort to close the shutters on the colonial experience and to
set new horizons fitting to their ideas of independence. These changes in the
social system on the one hand and the rapid emergence and expansion of firms
on the other, yield interesting insights into the ties between business and its
Business exists in social environments, and in different degrees is
reflective of their characteristics and responsive to their pressures and needs.
Put differently, the suggestion is that business may be conceptualized as parts
of a social mechanism, as sub-systems within a more inclusive social milieu.
Thus, an enterprise is a sub- system in so far as the exchanges within the firm
itself are more intensive than exchanges between itself and its environment.
But this does not mean that the linkages between a firm and its society are of a
lesser order of importance. Indeed the survival and growth of a business may
be related to its capacity to interact effectively with its social environment.
With these few theoretical guides in mind, we can examine the proposi-
tion made, namely, that business organizations are in different degrees
reflective of the characteristics of their social setting and that they are
responsive to its pressures and needs. In attempting this analysis, the aim is to
suggest that certain changes in the social environment may be of crucial
importance for business.
The first part of the proposition suggests that the social composition of
any business is related to the patterns of stratification that characterise the
society as a whole. Thus, given a class system in which colour is a pivotal fac-
tor1, so that the upper class is typically white, the middle, brown and the
lower class typically black, one would expect a corresponding distribution of
these types in the hierarchal systems of business enterprises.
And given the modifications that are necessary since Braithwaite's
analysis is almost 20 years old now this is still the prevailing pattern. The
pattern is, however, somewhat clouded on account of the gradual upward
mobility of blacks into the middle and upper classes. The origin of this strati-
fication system which clearly has its roots in plantation society will not be
traced in this exercise.
However, a particular aspect may be of special significance to the business
environment, namely the role of immigrant groups that entered the Caribbean
after the slave system had formally ended. East Indians, Chinese, Syrians, and
Lebanese are the groups about which we may generalize. In proportion to their
populations in the Caribbean, there is a conspicuously higher incidence of these
ethnic groups engaged in business enterprises than is the case for Blacks. This
situation, in which there are comparatively far more Indians, Chinese, and
Syrians involved in commercial operations than Blacks has given rise to all
sorts of myths and lent support to other fables. These include notions that the
Chinese are especially gifted mathematicians, that Indians are usually
cohesive and conscientious people, and contrariwise that Afro-Caribbeans are
not enterprising and lack business acumen whatever that is.
An appreciation of the different social histories of these ethnic groups may
throw some light on these myths. A major distinguishing factor lies in the
nature of migration for Afro-Caribbeans, and all other groups: migration was
involuntary for the Afro-Caribbean and they were brought into a permanent
fixed position in plantation society. Furthermore, there was a calculative
policy to remove all cultural features that linked them to their native country.
All other ethnic groups entering the plantation territories after emancipation
did so voluntarily and as immigrants. Moreover, they planned to remain in the
Caribbean only temporarily, they were allowed to maintain all their cultural
traits language, religion, stratification, family structure, etc. and most
important for our present interest is that their status in the environment was
subject to regulation for a limited period only, namely the duration of their
indenture. They were outside of the social system2 that is, they were not
restricted except by their own choice. As groups outside of the Caribbean's
colour-class system, they sought to find some niche in the society in which they
could locate themselves. One theorist on immigrant groups, Everette Hagen,3
suggests that it is this search for a place in society that motivates immigrants
to work so prodigiously and to be engaged so frequently in risk-taking
enterprises, since they have nothing to lose.
If we accept this argument, we would have a less mythical explanation for
conspicuous presence of members of these ethnic groups in the Caribbean's
business system. One set of explanations would be tied to sociological factors,
the nature of their immigration, the temporary nature of their indenture, and
the relatively minor significance of Caribbean culture for their own behaviour,
all situations which left these groups less circumscribed by the Caribbean's
social mores, and therefore, relative to Blacks, freer to engage in low status ser-
vice-oriented tasks or enterprises which contained a high element of risk.
The status that was of importance to the immigrant, was not the one ascribed
to him by Caribbean society, but the one he occupied within the immigrant
group, that is, in his own sub-system, his own culture.
This position of marginality to the prevailing cultural system provided the
immigrant groups with extraordinary flexibility relative to its other segments
of the society. He could perform those tasks which the society regarded as
menial and which other workers, notably Black, regarded with contempt and
avoided, since these roles threatened their status. The immigrant could execute
these roles without them having any effect on his status in his own group.
Similarly immigrants could more readily engage in risk-taking ventures, since
if they failed, their social position would be unaffected, they would still remain
marginal to the dominant social pattern.
By contrast, during the post-emancipation period Blacks were trapped
within the value system of the colonial society. The plantation-colonial culture
had become virtually the only one that they knew. And clearly, they set out to
change their position in terms of the patterns of mobility that were similar to
that system by avoiding plantation labour, acquiring their own plot of land,
gaining skills in trades, self-employment and through education. Thus they
were primarily concerned with obtaining their own means of subsistence and
with attaining the attributes of wealth exhibited in the life-styles of the planter
class. Feelings of self-sufficiency and independence were of the highest
importance to a people just released from a wretched institution of slavery;
every effort was made to avoid working for any 'master' or providing services
which were considered to be menial. On account of their socialization into the
value system of the society they were in a far less flexible position than other
groups that had separate cultural systems; the Blacks' integration into
plantation society acted as a severe constraint on them. Social mobility for
Blacks meant obtaining the positions which the brown and white-skinned
members of the society occupied and living in the style that they did. Thus while
the Blacks sought for social status and respectable, stable, salaried
employment within the government machinery, the immigrant groups
ventured into business. Furthermore, there is scarcely any need to point out
that the acute anti-Black discriminatory practices continued to operate after
the legal abolition of the slave system, thereby making social mobility for
Blacks more problematic than for any other ethnic group. The mere passage of
law does not in itself alter social relationships.
Another set of explanations for the incidence of immigrants in commercial
activities is of a psychological order, that is, the notion that the need to find a
place in society was a powerful motivating force, encouraging members of
these groups to make extraordinary sacrifices both in terms of conscientious
work on one hand and on the other, by spartan living. Immigrants live simply
not only because of their urge to save, but also because the material symbols of
status and prestige which are common to the host society often have no special
significance in the immigrants' culture. Thus the social marginality of
immigrants saves them the cost of display purchases.4 The logical con-
sequences of hard working and minimal spending is the accumulation of
funds, which can be invested in such a way as to change the social and
economic prospects for subsequent generations. Immigrants to Caribbean
society have done this by saving in order to make capital outlays on businesses
and by investing in their children's education.
The idea of economic rationality inherent in the immigrants' behaviour
ought not to surprise us, for this was the essence of their decision to move to the
Caribbean in the first place. Their objective was to work in the Caribbean,
accumulate savings and return to their native lands in a more secure economic
position. It is also likely that some of the roles which immigrants performed in
the Caribbean, did not arise for entrepreneurial insights into the society, but
were simply the same tasks that they had customarily performed in their
native, traditional environment. For example, both barbering and jewelry are
low caste occupations in India: the domination of these two trades in several
Caribbean islands by Indians seems to suggest that many of these immigrants
brought these skills with them to the Caribbean and capitalised on them5
There is evidence to suggest that several of these factors are still operating
in the Caribbean, selecting various occupational groups and influencing
attitudes toward work. For this reason, they may be pertinent to studies
seeking to understand the differences in motivation that exist among workers
in Caribbean businesses. If it were found that some ethnic groups were more
readily motivated than others, then it is not improbable that some explana-
tion might be advanced according to the different social histories of these
groups in the Caribbean, and according to the occupational traditions that
have emerged about them. Naipaul, concentrating on Trinidad, has written a
humorous and insightful account which throws light on the association
of certain ethnic groups with certain occupations.6 This concurrence of
ethnic groups and occupational specialization tends to perpetuate itself
on two counts. First because younger members of the group are continually
exposed to the mechanisms of trade and so themselves become quite
proficient at it at an early age. This proficiency is not so much a function
of some intangible or vague notion such as "aptitude", but is the re-
sult of a process of socialization. The second way in which business
firms perpetuate their ethnic exclusiveness is by recruitment policies that
discriminate against non-members. These recruitment practices have been
closely examined and it appears that the high incidence of family ownership
among Caribbean enterprises is a central factor. That is, not only ethnicity, but
the fact that families are anxious to retain their control accounts for a high
degree of kinship preference7.
These views on the social context of our business activities are derived
from the concept of our society as being stratified primarily along colour
lines, and from a theory of immigrant groups.
Other concepts about the structure of our society may be helpful in ob-
taining other perceptions on the behaviour of members of business enterprises.
The notion of various Caribbean states as plural societies is one that puts em-
phasis on the difference between the cultural patterns that constitute West In-
dian societies, and which points to the vast disparities in styles of life even
among members of a single ethnic group.8 Some of the more important areas
in which these groups differ include family structure, religion, education and
In the present context the concept of plural societies may be useful in
showing that conflicts in business situations, conflicts which tend to be defined
as labour relations problems, may in fact have their roots in the environment's
social structure, and not in the firm itself. If there is any plausibility to this
proposition one would expect to find that "labour disputes" would more
commonly include parties from different ethnic groups or from different colour
classes in the society. More important, one would expect that conflict would be
keenest where workers felt that one of their number had been wronged by a
manager of some other ethnic group or social class. For example, since
independence there have been notably strong group reactions to violence or
threats of violence from white expatriates and members of minority ethnic
groups who occupy managerial positions. Both the anti-Chinese outburst and
the protracted strike of the Jamaica Omnibus Service of the mid 60s had their
origins in circumstances of this sort. A more recent parallel is found in the
strike and eventual closing of the Colonial Shirt Factory -rather ironically
named which emerged after violence, threatened or actual, between a white
expatriate manager and a member of the Jamaican working-class. Indeed
issues of ethnicity, commonly the most volatile feature of labour disputes
frequently precipitate wild-cat strikes. Perhaps another way in which the social
conflict in the society manifests itself in the workplace is in the likelihood that
many of the economic demands made by workers are veiled channels for
expressing resentment to a managerial group, resentment which again arises
more from the social system than from the work situation itself.
Having made these suggestions about some probable linkages between the
social structure of the Caribbean and business in this area, one wishes to make
a further proposition concerning the relationship between business policy and
social values. The proposition reads as follows:
Certain changes in the attitudes of large segments of a population can have
significant consequences for the patterns in which businesses operate and even
for the goals that they establish.
This proposition is really an elaboration of one mentioned earlier when
it was suggested that firms are in different degrees responsive to en-
vironmental pressures and needs. It is also inseparable from the idea of
viewing business institutions as sub-systems contained within a more com-
if we consider the impact of decolonization, we may find some evidence
for supporting the proposition. Without getting trapped into the task of defin-
ing decolonization, we can point to those features which have most importance
for our exercise. The process typically involves a shift from economic depen-
dency to self-sufficiency, or more precisely a rationalization of resources to
serve the needs of the nation itself, rather than those of some external
metropolitan market. In political affairs decolonization is most visible
and occurs as truly indigenous leaders and administrators take over and
operate the main nationwide decision-making institutions. Far less dramatic
and identifiable are the psychological and cultural transformations. The
individual obtains a new view of himself, he discovers an image which es-
tablishes its own validity; he no longer needs to rely on other images
from which to derive his own, and so an external orientation is replaced
with an inward looking one. The liberation that accompanies decoloniza-
tion yields a renaissance and elevation of indigenous cultural patterns
that were spurned by the metropolitan rulers. There is a positive effort
to search for authentic indigenous cultural forms and to build them
up into new national standards. This task takes the form of a calculated
rescue or salvage operation intent on establishing anew the legitimacy of
the indigenous culture. For our purposes then, we can think of decoloniza-
tion as the growth of a Caribbean or local perspective as opposed to a
plantation or overseas outlook.
However, no new set of social attitudes develops without generating some
measures of conflict within the environment. Hence, the consequences of this
decolonization syndrome are neither unilinear nor simple, but have
ramifications in directions other than those which one might at first expect.
Indeed it is commonplace that the very influences that stimulate the emergence
of new social patterns also set off reactions that increase resistance to the new
forms. The way in which a so-called white backlash developed in reaction to the
growth of an articulate and organized movement among Blacks in the USA is
an instance of this phenomenon. Hence, even while decolonization proceeds
at a rapid rate there will be enclaves within the society hostile to that transi-
tion which will seek in every way to strengthen the pockets of metropolitan
culture. The decolonization process is a complex one in which different in-
fluences and groups pull in various directions, sometimes in diametrically op-
To be sure, one result of significance to commercial operators has been the
gradual spread of the acceptability of local products into some segments of the
middle and upper classes. An acceptability of some importance since these
classes possess a considerable portion of the Caribbean's purchasing power,
especially so with regard to certain commodities. Thus, those businesses
engaged in producing local substitutes for goods that were, until recently, only
available by importation are, so to speak, on to a good thing. Here the term
'substitute' is not being used in the pure sense that economists mean, namely
the availability of another commodity closely similar to the purchaser's first
choice, and comparatively priced. Indeed the essence of some of the products
that emerge within this decolonization frame is that they fit neatly into the local
cultural milieu. In other words, in the dimension of taste, they represent a
conscious effort to deviate from the original. The function of the original article
is replaced by one that is markedly more in line with the indigenous values
which emerge in a decolonizing society. One can tentatively posit that the
Guyanese shirt-jack industry, the record industry in several islands and the
pre-cooked T.V. dinner business in Jamaica, with dishes of salt fish, stew peas,
and so on, are instances of this replacement process. Dress is a particularly
interesting area since the coat-and-tie syndrome of the well-dressed man albeit
in a blazing tropical sun, was a hallmark of the colonial standard. The
Guyanese breakthrough in this field has been followed by a proliferation of
other styles in almost every island: St. Lucia, Barbados and Jamaica all have
their own distinctive versions. It is noteworthy that each of these changes,
whether in dress, music or food, required at least for some segments of the
population, departures from colonial patterns and standards.
Of similar importance is the manner in which the product or service is
offered to the public. With respect to manufacturers working in the framework
of a decolonized society, one is likely to find presentations and advertisements
that employ images and language indigenous to the environment. There has of
course been a definite trend in this direction throughout the Caribbean. And as
one would expect, the trend is increasing in velocity: it is now no longer odd to
have a Caribbean face or voice performing an advertising role. It is important
to note that in Jamaica the television advertisements in which sex roles are
employed, they still remain the province of the white foreigner although
considerable inroads are currently being made with the use of Black
But these trends, the growth of enterprises that are really indigenous in
terms of product and presentation, do not prevent the expansion of other
enterprises which are founded on the existence of a colonial value system. Nor
is this paradox purely the result of economic factors-that the indigenous
industries cannot meet the full market demand-but rather reflects the
equivocal state of the value position in Caribbean society: as mentioned above,
parts of different segments are shifting in different directions. Furthermore,
the indigenous-colonial polarities are complicated by the rapidly growing
influence of the USA. Since Independence the shift in orientation toward the
USA has perhaps been as significant as the reorientation to the Caribbean itself.
It is not far-fetched to suggest that some degree of the expansion that occurs in
colonial-oriented businesses, may be in reaction to tensions generated by the
emergence of the alternate and competing orientation which develops in the
decolonization process. If this were a plausible notion, we would expect to find
artifacts of local craftsmanship and imported commodities juxtaposed side by
side throughout the environment. There seems to be some evidence that this is
so with respect to the different styles of furnishings in households, and to the
different types of dress at public gatherings and so on. The same store that
offers 'authentic' steam bent rockers and bamboo furniture also deals in the
newest water beds, the same living room adorned with Rastafarian pottery
and paintings boasts the most elaborate quadrilateral equipment. The earthen
water pitcher appears again, this time beside its modern cousin, the self-
defrosting, ice-making refrigerator.
This ambiguity manifests itself throughout the society and is clearly
evident in the market place. Thus one pre-cooked package of frozen food will
contain an authentic Jamaican dish, mackerel and bananas, while the one next
to it is oxtail in wine, a remarkable combination of the two worlds. Similarly
the same groups who form the vanguard of transition from metropolitan styles
of dress to patterns more rational in the tropics the ones typified by
natural hair styles, beards and bush jackets are also among those who
display the highest propensity for the conspicuous consumption of massive
high powered motor cars and houses equipped with every conceivable modern
gadget. On the one hand they pioneer a new cultural standard and on the
other they protract a cardinal feature of colonialism. These are the "oxtail-
The points of conflict between the two orders, the indigenous and the
metropolitan, may not be easily predicted, because the two categories are not
completely distinct or pure types. For example, Caribbean products do not
monopolise the use of West Indian images and language forms. Several
imported goods and services are presented in a Caribbean idiom. For example,
one large North American bank employed calypso rhythm and steel pan
sounds and images while it was establishing itself in Trinidad and Tobago in the
This pattern which was virtually a novelty eight years ago is quite
commonplace today. Foreign products marketed in the Caribbean have
developed local advertisements, which utilize the region's people, its styles of
life and its landscape. The advertisements for Nescafd and Cold Power are
instances of these developments: the Cold Power advertisements are
particularly interesting since they break with the traditional American style of
associating soap powder with washing machines alone and links it to a whole
series of images of different washing situations common in Caribbean societies.
Indeed even those advertising film strips developed abroad and exported to the
Caribbean are careful to include a substantial presence of Black people in
them: the British advertisement for Players cigarettes is one of these. The use
of West Indians for advertising imported goods is not confined to upper or
middle class images: there are clearly calculated efforts to associate certain
products with several strata of the society. The image of the fisherman in his
canoe lighting a Rothman's cigarette is an example of this type. The bank
advertisements also attempt to present a casual pleasant atmosphere in which
banking is shown as everybody's business, not just the transactions of the
professional and the wealthy.
On the other hand some products although locally manufactured are
presented with metropolitan forms. They sometimes combine local images
with a stiff British accent which tolls out the virtues of the commodity. Or they
use cartoons and a North American accent. Some advertisements which use
both Caribbean people and Caribbean accents in so far as one ever hears
the latter on radio or television encounter difficulties because of their total
mimicry of U.S.A. styles. The idiom is peculiar, and dialogue awkward and
the whole presentation seems highly artificial and synthetic. The expert
housewife exchanges of several advertisements on detergents exhibit these
problems. In spite of this disjointedness however, it is likely that the aggressive.
forceful North American style of advertisements will increase if the pattern of
influence established in the first decade of independence continues. Already,
the way in which we use our main media of mass communication is heavily
guided by standards prevailing on popular stations in the USA: on radio this
presents somewhat of a paradox since the disc jockeys who so reverently
imitate the North American accents are the ones who play the Caribbean music
in which the lyrics are commonly in Creole.
There are of course the fully congruent advertisements North Ameri-
can ones for their products, British ones for theirs and Caribbean ones for
commodoties produced in the region. These scarcely require any special
comment. In passing though, one might observe that certain Caribbean
advertisements, notably those for popular alcoholic beverages seem to make a
special effort to reach out to several segments of the population-even if
Desnoes and Geddes goes to the point of showing a coconut vendor, his cart
loaded with fruit quenching his thirst on a pint bottle of Red Stripe beer. The use
of Creole is gradually becoming more evident in certain types of
advertisements. The Jamaica National Building Society's advertisements al-
though they do not use Creole employ very simple language with familiar
place names, and animated sketches of Black people, all of which is neatly
enveloped in an easy catchy tune. The net result is an advertisement that is
The choice of the images used in presenting a commodity to its prospective
market may be a function of the firm's perception of the public's values. When
these values change or when managers think they have changed, they alter
their advertisements accordingly. Homelectrix provides a neat example of
this adjustment. In December 1971 their main television advertisement showed
a female version of Santa Claus, complete with mini fur coat and winter boots,
displaying the firm's Christmas presents. The following year they abandoned
this fantasy of a white Christmas in the Caribbean and replaced it with images
of a local festivity associated with that season, and one rooted in Afro-
Caribbean history. They switched to John Canoe dancers and rhythms. In
other words they moved from a foreign image of Christmas to a deeply
Similarly commodities directed at different segments of the society employ
different images. It is not surprising then, that a statement about the
advantages of a body deodorant use quite different images, language and
media from one on birth control. Clearly these messages are being directed at
different segments of the population. The message about the deodorant is set in
the idiom of the middle and upper classes and portrays beauty, recreation,
comfort and success. On the other hand the birth control advertisements
describe the reactions to and consequences of pregnancy in the lower class: the
images portrayed are those of irresponsibility, ignorance, rejection, constraint
and failure. There are clearly all sorts of assumptions in each of these
advertisements. It is evident however, that one of these is the notion that if the
message is made so that it closely reflects the life-style or aspirations of the
market one is trying to reach, then it is likely to be more effective than if it
uses images that are foreign to the prospective consumers. This idea may be
particularly significant where the aim is to persuade behavioral changes
involving deep, salient values than where the objective is to provoke a shift
from one brand of deodorant to another.
A further exceptionally far-sighted public relations strategy is the
I.C.D. one which projects a group of companies as having utopian relation-
ships with trade union representations. In Caribbean society, rigidly
stratified according to ethnic distinctions, trade union activity, allied
as it is to political institutions, can prove a highly volatile field The
combination is a perpetual threat to the survival of large businesses.
The I.C.D. advertisement describes a company that is beyond these
problems the manager and the union delegate are of the same ethnic
group and are shown working together in perfect harmony since both share a
common interest of the worker's welfare. At any rate, that is the message.
The term presentation is not restricted to the formal advertisement of a
commodity. Such things as the ethnic composition of an enterprise's staff, the
architecture of their surroundings and even its location are of sociological
importance. In Kingston, for example, there have been rapid changes in
residential, commercial and industrial areas. As the population of Kingston
grew, larger and larger numbers of people started living further and further
away from the hub of commercial activity below Cross Roads. But these new
populations required services too, and so gradually firms started to establish
branches above Cross Roads and in New Kingston, then above Half-Way-Tree
and more recently in Constant Spring. The commercial services have followed
the outward movement of the residential areas across the Liguanea Plains to
the foothills of the St. Andrew mountains. The absence of a satisfactory public
transport system yields a massive commutation problem into and out of
downtown Kingston. Indeed this problem alone significantly reduces the
number of applicants for jobs in the downtown area. Add to these factors the
prestige of working in the modern multi-storied buildings in New Kingston as
opposed to the far less pleasant over-crowded, sordid environment of downtown
Kingston and the main reasons for the large-scale shift in locations is evident.
Former high-class residential areas are overrun by garages, bars, record
shops, restaurants and the like-for instance South Camp Road and Half-Way-
Tree Road. The residents surrender, selling former residential property at
commercial prices and move further away. Then the chase begins again. So
geographical mobility, even for a population in and around a single city, is of
great importance to business firms.
But the further away people reside the longer they take to get to work and
the more expensive commuting becomes. Recognizing this problem, the
plans for the re-development of downtown Kingston are not limited to the
provision of industrial and commercial facilities, but include substantial
provision for high rise apartment buildings. The cycle in which the middle
and upper classes move out of a city into suburban areas and later return
to re-constructed multi-storied dwellings in the city itself is not a pecularity,
but an increasingly common feature of urban growth.
Similarly, changes in the social structure and in the standard of living can
have considerable implications for business operations. The transistor
along with increases in the standard of living have made a widespread
ownership of radios possible. The existence of this vast new audience, primarily
from the lower classes, has stimulated radical changes in radio station
programmes, both in content and timing. It is only with the existence of this
large lower class listenership that radio stations have developed stories set in
the social context of Caribbean lower class life. Twenty years ago when radio
ownership was far more limited and largely confined to the middle and upper
classes, the style and content of programmes was considerably different.
Clearly there is a keen relationship between the lower class ownership of
radios and the emergence ot popular indigenous artists and art forms. Is it that
a mass ownership of radios provided the opportunity for the development of
indigenous artists? Or is it that the upsurge of indigenous art which
accompanied decolonization gave radio a new pertinence and so stimulated an
expansion of radio ownership? It is more likely that an examination would
reveal some complementarity in the process, than yield a simple unilinear
explanation. Whichever the case though, it still follows that change in social
opportunities impinged on radio stations pushing them to re-design their
programmes in the interest of the lower classes. Notwithstanding the existence
of AM-FM transistorized radios, there is a patent difference in the level of
programmes offered on each one. There can be no doubt that for the most part
the FM broadcasts are beamed at the middle and upper classes which possess
by far the greater number of sophisticated FM receivers. Until FM equipment
is common place among the lower classes, the distinction in AM-FM pro-
grammes is likely to remain.
Those businesses in which face to face contact with the society is critical,
for example, insurance companies and banks, must place particular importance
on the selection of their personnel lest they alienate large segments of the popu-
lation. In the past decade or so these two industries have changed their images
considerably by employing Blacks, not only as guards and messengers,
but at all levels. Whether this development reveals their wisdom in pursuing an
anticipatory, long range policy intended to reduce any hostility that might be
directed against them, or whether it simply reflects their response to social
pressure (a further aspect of the decolonization syndrome), or still, whether
both are operative, are empirical questions that can be readily established by
examining the process of change in a few selected ones. What cannot be dis-
puted is the fact that there was blatant social discrimination in the employment
practices in private enterprises and that this has been noticeably modulated
since independence. For the public sector in which employment was based on
certification and merit has been staffed by Blacks, whereas the private sector
has been characteristically light-coloured. Private firms were clearly not
recruiting workers on the basis of qualification. Camejo has offered a number
of explanations for the patterns of discrimination: the link between ownership,
especially family ownership and the employment of kin or fellow club members
and their associates is clearly established.9
If there is any validity in the suggestion that the employment of Blacks and
other ethnic groups previously excluded was a response to social pressure, then
it might follow that there would be some correlation between the stage of
decolonization and the employment practices of businesses in different
territories throughout the Caribbean. If this is in fact so, and on the
presumption that decolonization is not at the same uniform point throughout the
whole area, we would expect to find different instances of response to this
pressure in the Bahamas, or Jamaica or Trinidad and Tobago. Furthermore, it
seems plausible that we could push our hypothesis another step and contend
that enterprises' responses will not reveal constant gradients over time,
but that they would fluctuate according to changes in the type and
extent of social pressure applied to them. The employment of work
permit restrictions, for example, are formally at least far more threatening to
firms with large numbers of expatriates on their staffs, than quiet moral
suasion for the employment of nationals.
Of course, response need not always be favourable to the ethnic group
applying pressure. It is possible that employers may react by making stringent
provisions to ensure the continued exclusion of members of that group. Both
Jamaica with respect to the 1968 Black Power riots which followed Rodney's
exclusion, and the more extensive eruptions of a similar orientation in Trini-
dad, afford ideal opportunities for examining this idea. In Jamaica, for
example, during the months immediately following the Rodney riots,
employers openly probed the political values of their applicants for
management posts. In Trinidad the new styles and values which developed with
the Black Power movement had a notable impact on hair-dressing es-
tablishments: the reduction of clientele forced several of them to cease
operation. One other reaction to the growth of black consciousness has
been the use of coloured mannequins. This image of blackness increasingly
employed by large commercial enterprises serves both to dissipate hostility
and to convey the feeling of being fashionable, of being "together" and "with
The impact of the riots and the Black Power movement on business were
not always so direct. The middle and upper classes became quite paranoid and
intensely fearful for their lives and property. These fears led to a boom in what
we may term the household defence economy-a large underground market for
firearms, security guard firms, elaborate burglar bar protection, dog-breeding
and expensive anti-theft alarm systems. The reactions of firms and individuals
to the new social pressure which emerges during a decolonization process reveal
particularly interesting aspects of human behaviour; any student who wishes to
gain an appreciation of the significance of the social environment for business
can learn a good deal by examining these reactions.
Much of the analysis that has been attempted here, should be pertinent to
such an exercise. But there is a corollary of the notion mentioned earlier that
would seem to require consideration. For the sake of order, the earlier notion is
re-stated. It runs as follows:
Certain changes in the attitudes of large segments of a population
can have significant consequences for the pattern in which
businesses operate and even for the goals that they establish.
The corollary reads as follows:
The degree to which a firm is responsive to its environment
is generally determined by its economic strength and its judg-
ment of the extent of the public's feeling of dependency on its
services or commodities.
In other words, a firm's power is a function of its own affluence on one hand,
and of the community's weaknesses on the other. Of course, the power
relationship between a firm and its environment may be significantly
influenced by particular historical and political situations. Clearly during a
colonial era, metropolitan firms are able to operate precisely as they choose
and to do so with impunity. The colonizer's virtual monopoly of the
tools of violence together with the economic dependence of the plantation
system ensures a high measure of control in favour of foreign organizations.
Furthermore, a central objective of colonization is the imposition of
metropolitan culture and values. The colonizer's contempt for the native or host
culture scarcely leads him to adjust to its standards; on the contrary, it is the
'subjects' who are forced to adjust.
Apart from such situations the responsiveness of businesses to their
communities might be instructive. Given this notion of a firm's power versus a
community's strength, one might review the degree of responsiveness
displayed by Barclays Bank when there were demonstrations and protests on
the Mona campus of UWI concerning its policies in South Africa. Within the
framework of the notion just presented and given the structure of Caribbean
society, it seems most unlikely that such protests will gather the extent of
support necessary to put any significant pressure on such institutions even
regarding their local policies in other territories. The economic strength, local
and international, of this category of enterprise, and also the elementary or
apparently elementary stage of protest in the Commonwealth Caribbean, in
addition to prevailing notions that the Caribbean needs, that cannot survive
without such institutions, all leave these enterprises relatively free from local
The selection of banks as one symbol around which the community focuses
its demonstrations is not coincidental. They are rather readily associated with
wealth and their ties with the society are highly selective since traditionally
they have been regarded as being of value only to those few who require their
services. For a large proportion of the society they are merely institutions that
serve the wealthy, that is they are, symbolically or otherwise, agents of their
oppression. It is therefore particularly significant to point out that far from
being the prestigious stronghold of the light-skinned members of the middle
and upper classes, the banks are now almost entirely staffed by Blacks
especially so at points where exchanges with the public are most frequent.
Even more noteworthy is the effort of the banks to create images of friendliness
and helpfulness and in doing so to use personalities who are not merely Black,
but fashionably so. Bank advertisements show attractive, stylish, young Black
people on both sides of the counter transacting business in an atmosphere so
relaxed that even a little school girl is comfortable in the midst of it all. The
message transmitted suggests that banking is not a remote, mysterious
operation for the wealthy, but is a simple, pleasant service of value to everyone.
This is quite a switch from the posture of twenty years ago before the forces of
nationalism really began to erode the colonial standards.
The 1971 confrontation in Guyana which led that state to nationalize its
bauxite resources and the reactions which this provoked in some articulate
quarters of Jamaican society may be taken as indices to the different stages of
decolonization in these nations. Evidently the decision-makers and the
influentials in Guyanese society feel considerably less dependent on Demba or
the fortunes of their bauxite industry, than is the case for their counterparts in
Jamaica. It is doubtful whether the Guyanese Government would have moved
along such a path if it was not fairly certain of support from the country as a
whole. Except for Williams' adventure with Chaguaramas, this represents a
new experience for the Commonwealth Caribbean: it is a novel exercise in
which one member of that group has challenged the supremacy or sovereignty
of the multi-national corporation in the area. Given this development it is clear
that all those factors which influence a community's "feeling of dependency"
are pivotal. This socio-political component is of the highest importance. For it
would seem that even where a firm possesses a great deal of economic power
and even where a community might feel itself economically dependent on that
firm, the extent to which the community has been socialized toward norms of
independence and self-sufficiency may be a critical factor. In the last resort a
firm can normally only do what it is legitimately permitted to do by a society's
decision-makers, or what it is allowed to do by a dormant populace. Beyond
these points the firm is obliged to employ the use of force. In other words, those
re-orientations in action or ideology which contribute to the erosion of the
colonial syndrome may have consequences for all business enterprises in the
Caribbean, regardless of the scale of their operations, their wealth or the extent
of their multi-nationality.
1. Braithwaite, Lloyd "Social Stratification in Trinidad" Social and Economic
Studies, Vols. 2 and 3 (Oct. 1953), passim.
3. Everette Hagen Social Change.
4. It is notable that this description of typical immigrant behaviour is no longer
characteristic of certain of these groups. In recent years the Chinese in Jamaica,
for example, have opted for a new style of life, one which is identical to
patterns in the middle and upper classes of the society. This is evident in their
move from living in quarters above or in the midst of commercial enterprises to
houses in purely residential areas, and the change from a predominantly saving
orientation to one of conspicuous consumption. These trends are especially evi-
dent among the younger members of the present generation.
5. If the ideas in the proceeding paragraphs are valid, namely that the acquisitive
behaviour of immigrants is a function of their social experience and is indepen-
dent of race, then it should be possible to demonstrate that this process occurs
with races other than the Chinese, Indians, Syrians and Portuguese the ones
that have made well in the Caribbean. Perhaps the easiest way to make this case
is by reference to the Caribbean Blacks who have migrated to the UK and USA.
They have established close-knit West Indian communities in these countries, have
worked exceedingly hard and have managed to accumulate wealth and property.
In doing so, they have often accepted jobs which they would scarcely care to
perform in their own societies. These West Indian communities are typified as
being clannish in the same way that immigrant groups in the Caribbean are re-
garded as cohesive. Indeed, West Indians in Brooklyn are referred to as "Jew-
maicans". Perhaps the classical instances of the Caribbean emigrants who have
moved upward economically are those farmworkers who became landlords in
less than a generation. The role that Caribbeans have played in the politics of
these countries, especially so in the racial developments in the USA, is well
6. V. S. Naipaul "The Baker's Story" in A Flag on the Island, Penguin Books, 1969.
7. Acton Camejo "Racial Discrimination and Employment in Trinidad and Tobago:
A Study of the Business Elite and the Social Structure." Social and Economic
Studies Sept. 1971.
8. Acton Camejo op cit.
9. The power relationships between business organization and the Caribbean en-
vironment are examined in a separate article.
TIME IN EUROPEAN AND AFRICAN PHILOSOPHY:
Assumptions as to the nature and significance of time are among the most
fundamental features of human experience. They are so closely interwoven into
the world-view of a given society, that its members are seldom conscious of the
ways in which their lives are influenced by them. In fact, these assumptions are
usually so taken for granted, that it is usually very difficult for the members of
one society to realize that very different assumptions can and do exist in other
cultures. The differences between European and African assumptions as to the
nature and significance of time, provide an excellent example of the kinds of
diversity which can exist in the tackling of such a basic human problem.
Reflection on the mystery of time has a long history in western philosophy.
The ancient Greeks-like the Hindus, Mayas, etc.-believed the universe to be
cyclic, and consequently conceived of time as being essentially periodic. The
recorded beliefs of individual philosophers heralded in a long period of
speculation which Reichenbach regards as mere "documents of emotional
dissatisfaction invented to appease the desire to escape the flow of time and
allay the fear of death."' Almost from the very outset, two rival philosophies
were launched. The central point of dispute concerned the nature of 'becom-
ing' and the related concepts of past, present and future. On one side of the
debate, Parmenides argued for the 'elimination' of time by maintaining that
temporal flux is not intrinsic to the ultimate nature of things. The other posi-
tion was held by Heraclitus who argued that the world is a totality of events
rather than things and since everything is in a constant state of flux, time is of
necessity an ultimate and irreducible aspect of the universe. According to
Whitrow,2 the history of natural philosophy has been characterized by these
two rival philosophies.
That there has been a passion to make a distinction between the time of
human experience-a time which the theologians have insisted on calling
"secular time"-and a higher reality exempt from the flow of time, there can
be no doubt. Parmenides' "continuous uncreated.... one," Plato's "eternity",
St. Augustine's "City of God", Kant's "things-in-themselves," Hegel's
"Absolute Spirit," and Spinoza's world that "only God sees," are all
descriptions of this timeless reality.
The idealist descendants of Parmenides have given different accounts of
the relationship between the time of human experience and this timeless
reality: The illusory nature which Parmenides ascribed to the former, (and
which later received the support of Zeno who offered his famous paradoxes as
proof of the impossibility of motion and the timelessness of Being), was
interpreted by Plato as something which was created simultaneously with the
universe and which was therefore bound to it, but which was nevertheless a
mere "image" of the timeless realm.
St. Augustine, while admitting his mortal ignorance of the subject, settled
for a subjectivist and realtivist view of secular time. For the faithful, this time
was a route to the City of God (we shall see the great significance of this later),
but in secular time, one should be concerned with the measurement of time
passing: "The present of things past is memory; the present of things present is
sight; the present of things future is expectation."a Kant also regarded time as
subjective, but saw time (and space) as a prior intuitive forms through
which the timeless "things-in-themselves" are made comprehensible to human
Both Hegel and Spinoza attributed the illusory nature of the time of human
experience to man's inability to see 'the whole.' But while Hegel saw this
illusory time as functionally linked to the logical, ethical and dialectical
progression through thesis, antithesis and synthesis en route to the Absolute
Spirit, Spinoza was more concerned with showing how unreasonable it is to
react emotionally to an illusion, and the importance of resignation to the
The view that the time of human experience has no ultimate
significance, has been maintained not only by a long line of idealist
philosophers, but has received support from an empirically oriented
philosopher like Russell, a devoted student of the subject like Whitehead, and is
similar in many ways to some of the views held by modern scientists.
In opposition to the idealists, the descendants of Heraclitus have insisted
that time is a basic feature of the universe. This view has received the support
of philosophers as separated in time as Aristotle and Bergson.
Aristotle admitted that the existence of the soul may be a pre-condition for
the existence of time, and he saw eternity more as a feature of a cyclic universe
than as an independent and higher reality. But the belief that time is a
fundamental element in the structure of the world was a much more
characteristic feature of his thought. He included time as one of his ten
'categories' and defined it as "motion that admits of numeration."4 Like
Heraclitus, Aristotle believed that there are real "comings into being" in the
Bergson saw this 'Becoming' as the very essence of time. According to him
Being is action, and since mathematical time does nothing, it does not exist.
The past is that which no longer acts, and the present is that which is acting.
Both past and present are unified in the "data of consciousness." According
Bergson, the physicists have misunderstood time by "spatializing" it. Time or
"duration" can be understood only by immediate awareness.
But the speculation of philosophers was not the only source of time concepts
in western thought. The rise of Christianity created one of the major changes.
By emphasizing the Crucifixion and the anticipated climactic Return of Jesus as
unique and unrepeatable events in historical time, the view of time as cyclic
repetition gave way to the view of it as linear progression. St. Augustine as
was hinted at earlier was the first western thinker to make this Christian
inspired linear, irreversible and inevitably climactic view of historical time
an important feature of his philosophy of time. Spengler, the German
historian, subscribed to a variation of the cyclic view with respect to
the 'life-history' of individual cultures. Hegel believed that history allowed
some repetition, but that they were to be seen as progressive stages
within the larger movement towards the final realization in the Absolute
Another influence on western concepts of time" has come from what is
commonly called the "occult." In one of his clairvoyant trances, Edgar Cayce
explained how prophecy is possible: "Those activities (of men) make for such
an impression upon the realm of data, or between time and space, as to make
for what men have called Destiny in the material affairs of individuals."5
According to Cayce, ever since Creation (which was when it began), all events
have been and continue to be recorded on what he metaphorically calls the
"skein of Time and Space."6 This data can be read by all those who are capable
of becoming attuned to it. Cayce believes that past, present and future are
ultimately unreal distinctions, and joins the idealist philosophers in the belief
that "Time and Space are the elements of man's own concept of the Infinite and
are not realities as would be any bodily element in the earth..."7 Proofs of the
possibility of things like precognition (through dreams etc.) which are so
popular in "para-psychological, research today, could lead to interesting
revelations as to the nature of both time and space.
But in spite of the multitude of claims which have been made, and the
seemingly unending number of theories which have been and continue to be
advanced, C. D. Broad claims that "Our knowledge of time as of space owes
more to the labours of mathematicians and physicists than to those of professed
philosophers."8 He singles out the contributions of philosophical mathe-
maticians like Dedekind and Cantor, whose analyses of infinity and
continuity have satisfactorily refuted all antinomies based on these two
concepts. He also mentions the studies which have been done by mathematical
physicists on the optics of moving systems, as well as the mathematical and
philosophical consequences of the Theory of Relativity which have been drawn
and elaborated by Einstein (its formulator) and others like Robb, Minkowski
and Whitehead. Some important features of the modern scientific concern with
time include: the rejection of the Newtonian view which conceived of time as
composed of discrete instants independent of the objects which occupied them,
the view that time is a dimension of space, the non-existence of continuity of
motion in quantum theory, as well as claims like that of Reichenbach that time
is a derivative concept derived from a non-temporal origin: "Time appears to
be a completely macrocosmic phenomenon, which cannot be traced into the
microcosm; it is born anew at every moment from the atomic chaos as a
The respective times of philosophical speculation and analysis, religious
revelation, mystical and clairvoyant apprehension as well as scientific
investigation into the sub-atomic, have all filtered, in varying degrees, into the
life, art and other cultural manifestations of western civilization. Inevitably, -
there have been fusions, rejections, transformations as well as new
interpretations in the ongoing adaptation to the universe.
Edward T. Hall,10 a modern anthropologist, argues that present day people
in the western world and particularly Euro-Americans-view time as a fixed
ever-present part of the natural environment. It is an expensive material to be
measured, carefully cut up into the tiniest pieces, and is to be sold for the high-
est price, and bought at the cheapest market. It can be earned, saved and lost,
and it must never be wasted. Linearity is stressed: time should be carefully
scheduled and there should be "one thing at a time." People who cannot handle
time on these terms are considered incompetent failures. Futurity beyond a
few years is the domain of science fiction writers (or writers of "speculative
fiction" as some would have it). That these writers have, to a large extent, re-
placed the "milk and honey" of religious utopians of earlier times, and that St.
Augustine's "City of God" is now more commonly thought of as "floating
cities" in outer space, is clearly an indication of the decline of the influence of
the Christian philosophy of history on western thought.11 To the American it is
the here and now that is important. The past is important mainly in so far as it
is an indication of acquired experience; and while the speculative writers are
playing with the future and creating novelties to satisfy a very deep-seated
thirst for change, hard-headed businessmen and planners insist on calling two-
year-plans "long term projects"
In his book, Hall is primarily concerned with showing that in addition to
these other aspects, time is also a "silent language" of very great significance.
The uses or abuses of the accepted norms of punctuality, advance notice, as
well as established 'time for everything' conventions, are customary methods of
communicating attitudes, status, and innumerable kinds of intentions, regards
and relationships. Time is a language, and since people from different cultures
'speak' it differently, the result is often a lot of misunderstanding. Hall sees
differences in assumptions as to the nature and significance of time, as among
the reasons for the poor communication which exists between Euro-Americans
and the native Indian population. But according to Hall this is not only a
domestic problem. It also helps to explain the distressing inability of
Americans to communicate with the peoples of foreign cultures everywhere.
We will now turn to attitudes to time in the African philosophical tradition.
We have seen that the question of time has been one of much academic
concern in western philosophy. Although John S. Mbiti offers an interesting
introduction to African concepts of time as "the key to reaching some
understanding of African religions and philosophies,"12 he also says that there
is little or no academic concern with time in traditional African life. The second
part of this statement probably needs some clarification. W. E. Abraham13
draws attention to the necessary distinction which must be made between
private and public philosophy. He points out that a good deal of studies like the
Abbe Alexis Kagame's doctoral thesis on the concept of being among the
Ruanda-Urundis, and Griaule's writings based on his interviews with his blind
hunter, have to be regarded as private philosophy. Since the idea of time
originates in the mind, it seems to me we have to assume that much of the
public philosophy which Mbiti describes, originated in the minds of individual
African philosophers who, largely because of the non-literate nature of
traditional African culture, must remain unknown as individual thinkers. In
western civilization the young is almost expected to question and rebel against
the opinions of their elders. African civilization does the very opposite: it
inculcates a veneration for the wisdom of the ancestors. In such a civilization,
heated academic dispute about the nature of time is not likely to receive too
much encouragement. This no doubt helps to explain the absence of the ongoing
academic concern which Mbiti mentions. Therefore our main concern will be
with public philosophy a public philosophy molded by many individual minds
(however slightly and anonymously) over the long years of African history.
Although Mbiti disagrees with some of his claims, J. Jahn (in his book
Muntu) examines time and space under the heading of Hantu, one of the
four linguistic categories under which he believes all aspects of African life and
thought can be subsumed. Jahn sticks to a theory of "force" which P. Tempels
(in his Bantu philosophy) regards as a key concept in understanding
African religions and philosophy. According to Jahn, time and space (hantu),
like everything else in the universe, are manifestations of NTU, the cosmic and
universal force which expresses the being of time, space, etc., and is the force
in which "Being and beings coalesce. NTU and the forces never occur
separately, and since the forces are continually active and are always effective,
the entire universe would have to come to a standstill before NTU could be
revealed.14 The NTU which Jahn describes, has some obvious resemblances to
the higher reality of the western idealists. But it is not too clear from what is
given here, whether its manifestations (time, space, man etc.), are illusory or
inferior in the Platonic sense. Since they "act continually, and are constantly
effective," it is probably correct to regard them as intrinsic properties of the
Mbiti, who is an African, claims that the theory of "force" which plays such
an important part in the writings of both Tempels and Jahn, cannot be applied
to other areas of African life and thought with which he is familiar. According to
him, the ultimate state of African ontology is to become a spirit not unity with
the more distant God (in the Christian, Agustinian or Hegelian tradition). This
ultimate state is guaranteed to all mortals who, after their death, are not too
soon forgotten by their relatives. No doubt African philosophy arrived at this
conclusion by the same "fear of death" route which Reichenbach ascribes to
the western idealists. Whether the fact that it stops short of making the leap to
unity with God is an indication of greater humility or 'backwardness' is not the
point here. But the fact that it makes the attainment of spirit-status a part of the
responsibility of those who are still alive, is an interesting reflection on the
African measure of the good life on earth, and the communality of both life and
The account which Mbiti gives, reveals a very strong emphasis on the
subjectivity of time. Indeed, time is not considered real until it has been
experienced. Time is composed of events, so a day, month, year or whatever, is
simply the sum of its events. There is no fixed, abstract time which is
independent of events, and which can be computed for its own sake. Because
time is thought of as a sum of events, an African sitting in the sun is not
"wasting" time in the western sense of the word. He is merely waiting for time
to happen, or is in the process or creating it.
Since time has to be experienced before it is considered real, actual time
consists only of the past and the present. Natural and partly predictable events
constitute potential time. The future is unreal and is seldom thought of as
more than about two years hence. According to Mbiti, the two significant
periods of African time are Sasa and Zamani. Sasa is Micro-Time, and is the
period of conscious existence. It is the period of individual memory and present
experience. The ontological rhythm of individual life birth, maturity, death
is played out in Sasa at the brink of potential time. As soon as events occur
they move 'backwards' towards Zamani. After physical death the individual
also, begins the journey backward towards Zamani. At this stage he is a
living-dead and is in the state of "personal immortality". He will continue
travelling towards Zamani as long as he is remembered on earth by name
(hence the importance of children in African society). Eventually, when he is
no longer remembered on earth by name, he sinks intoZamani and achieves the
state of "collective immortality" Sasa, therefore, is not the equivalent of the
western present, neither is Zamani the equivalent of the past. Sasa which is
Micro-Time feeds Zamani which is Macro-Time. Zamani is the "centre of
gravity" of all life and thought; it is "the graveyard of time, the period of
termination, the dimension in which everything finds its halting point. It is the
final storehouse for all phenomena and events, the ocean of time in which
everything becomes absorbed into a reality which is neither after nor
In the African tradition, therefore, historical time is neither cyclic nor
progressively linear. Progressive linearity occurs only in the ontological
rhythm of individual life, but the larger flow of history is 'backward' towards
Zamani. Since thereis no future dimension, there are no better worlds to come,
no messianic expectation, no climactic end of the world. 'Becoming' is the
endless rhythm of movement from Sasa to Zamani. The rhythm of individual
life, the rhythm of natural events, and the rhythm of history are important
aspects of African life. It is not surprising then, (recalling Northrop's thesis)
that rhythm is such an important aspect of African music. But African rhythm
is a part of an ongoing (if backward) linearity. African eternity is not the
mechanical monotony of the drone; and its linearity is not the axiomatically
constructed and climactically charged kind which is such an important part of
the tradition in western music. If is linear enough to be quite melodic, but
rhythm is the essence of all its movement and directions.
But the Christian philosophy has had a tremendous impact on traditional
African thought by adding the future dimension it did not have before. In his
article on "Christianity and Nationalism in tropical Africa," William F. Phipps
claims that this has been an important element in the rise of African
Nationalism.16 Mbiti sees the rapid importation of this future dimension as
"perhaps the most dynamic and dangerous discovery of African peoples in the
twentieth century."17 In this shift from Sasa and Zamani to Sasa and Future,
he sees a tendency to view it as one and the same thing. In his view, this is
"the tragedy and dilemma of rapid change in Africa."18
We have seen that there are many similarities as well as some striking
differences between European similarities as well as some striking differences
between European and African concepts of time. A more detailed investigation
than this has been, would no doubt reveal other difficulties and similarities, as
well as many other finer shades of similarities and variations within both
traditions. Each culture owes a lot of what it is to the philosophies of time it has
produced. Hall has shown that these differences are often the cause of
communication problems between different cultures. But they should reveal
more than that. They should reveal that as long as time is considered an
objective fact of the universe which is capable of receiving such varied and
plastic interpretations by the human consciousness, the potential value of all
interpretations should be recognized in the "ongoing quest for certainty."
A CARIBBEAN-JAMAICAN POSTCRIPT
The meeting of European and African peoples and cultures in the
Caribbean, and the functional adaptation of both to the new region within the
social structure of slavery, the plantation system, colonial government and the
later formation of free societies, have resulted in the development of various
kinds of creole cultures in the region. The differences between these two major
parent cultures were enormous, and as we have seen, differences in concepts of
time formed part of the cultural difference. What role has this clash of time
concepts played, or probably continue to play, in Caribbean history?
While cultural loss was greater for the uprooted, enslaved and dominated
African, the search for survivals has revealed, and continue to reveal, that the
loss was by no means complete. Identifiable survivals continue to exist in
religion, speech, folklore, dance and various kinds of social customs. It is
difficult and in some cases probably impossible to trace the historical rate,
patterns and degrees of acculturation into the European ways of seeing things,
as well as in the creation of a world-view adapted to the distinct historical and
geographical realities of the region. The survival of philosophical concepts are
probably the most difficult of all features of this process to identify and isolate.
Yet they could be the most crucial of all inheritances, since they are part of the
theoretical foundations of the society.
On the one hand, there is the prevailing African influence which exists to a
greater degree in the Caribbean than in any other area of African dispersion. It
is not surprising, therefore, that the Zamani factor is real enough. Belief that
they would return to Africa after death was a persistent belief among the
slaves. Artistic movements like Negritude, a religious-political movement like
Ras Tafari, and all the other kinds of yearnings towards Africa, may all be seen
as gropings towards Mbiti's Zamanian "centre of gravity."
On the other hand, the Caribbean African was taken extremely close to the
brink of a kind of cultural tabula rasa, and his predominantly Europeanized
consciousness is a fact which cannot be ignored. In Jamaica, Christianity was
not offered to the slaves until the end of the eighteenth century, and when it
was finally offered it was received with a good deal of cynicism. The religion of
the contemporary Jamaican masses had its basis in a compromise between the
new faith and surviving elements of African religious thought. Christianity,
with its future dimension, was most fully accepted by the free coloureds, and as
Patterson has pointed out, it became inseparablyy linked with social status and
political attention."19 The thrust of nationalism in Jamaica came from this
Europeanized elite. It has been pointed out that indigenous culture (including
Africanisms), as a factor in nationalism, has been the concern of a small
minority, and has not been a movement of the masses as it has been in countries
like Ireland and Israel.2 The fact that nationalism appeared earlier in the
Caribbean than it did in Africa, could be due in part to the greater cultural loss
and the greater internalization of European concepts of futurity.
Lilting Calypso music, and the more recent pulsating throb of Reggae, may
indeed be expressions of our 'creolization' of time. Recently, the title of a revue
called "Eight o'Clock, Jamaica Time," satirized our notorious 'unpunctuality.'
For good or ill, we have not yet entirely internalized the American 'commodity'
view of time. A Jamaican proverb says that "Time is longer than rope;" and a
recent election war was waged and won with a slogan that said: "Better must
come." The need to secularize at least in part the prevailing notions of
futurity among the masses, is probably at the very heart of the ongoing political
agony as to how to find ways of "mobilizing" them.
What then will be Caribbean Time? Is the Jamaican "rope" the same as
Cayce's "skein of time? Do we head for Mbiti's Zambanian "centre of
gravity" only to meet the Africans going in the opposite direction? Or do we join
the Africans (and probably everybody else) in the rush to the laboratory door?
1. Hans Reichenbach. The Direction of Time (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University
of California Press, 1956), p. 6.
2. G. J. Whitrow. The Natural Philosophy of Time (London: Nelson, 1961), p. 1.
3. St. Augustine. Confessions Ch. XX.
4. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon and
Shuster, 1945), p. 206.
5. May Ellen Carter, Edgar Cayce on Prophecy (New York: Paperback Library,
1968), p. 182.
6. Ibid., p. 184.
8. C. D. Broad, "Time", Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. XII.
9. Hans Reichenbach, p. 269.
10. Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language (New York: Doubleday. 1959), pp. 23 -
41 and 165- 185.
11. According to Hans Meyerhoff this philosophy has been reasserting itself in
modem times. See his The philosophy of History in Our Time (New York:
Doubleday, 1959), p. 23.
12. John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophies (New York: Doubleday, 1970),
13. W. E. Abraham, The Mind of Africa (University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 104.
14. John S. Mbiti, pp. 14 15.
15. Ibid., p. 29.
16. William E. Phipps, "Christianity and Nationalism in Tropical Africa," Civilizations
vol. XXII, 1972. No. 1. pp. 92 100.
17. John S. Mbiti, p. 287.
19. Orlando Patterson, The Sociology of Slavery (New Jersey: Fairleight Dickenson
University Press, 1967), p. 213.
20. Vera Rubin, Caribbean Studies: A Symposium (Seattle: University of Washington
Press, 1960), p. 121.
F. S. C. Northrop (in Philosophical Anthropology and Practical Politics, MacMillan
N.Y., 1960, p. 247 and p. 253), sees music as a reflection of the prevailing time con-
cepts in a culture. In keeping with the cyclic view of time, the use of the drone in
Hindu music symbolizes "the infinite timelessness out of which each sensed particular
thing, including sensed particular man, arises and to which it returns at death." But
in western technological society where different concepts exist, a music of "in-
tellectually grasped, axiomatically constructed relations" is created in keeping with
the assumptions of finite linearity and temporal climax. We shall see how the "rhythm
of Africa" may relate to Northrop's thesis.
Like things brown, Pappy,
things brown. The sea
your son, he own man now
doing all the talking; you
sit nodding. But the sea
don't have no promise for you
Pappy, though with all he lies
you agree might just as well
you old, can't help yourself,
sweetmouth still sweetmouth still
if he don't tell you the Preacher
will, though Jammie wife don't feel
that old men need lies
and think you forget
the time she call you salt-prune-face
to your face and even the great-gran, Pappy
Lord, Teresa girl, if only
But them young and don't know,
not so? And me? Me done drift
already, me see many things, like,
like them gulls that know plenty ships, or
.or a little black monkey
in bright red cap and dungeree?
You mean they really say that to you
Pappy? But they cute though,
everybody find so. Yes.
What? That you calling me
Jammie? Coming son,
Pappy coming, my son.
A VIEW OF WEST AFRICA
Owu in Yoruba History A. L. Mabogunje and J. Omer-Cooper Ibadan
Univ. Press, 1971 pb. pp. 123.
Tiv Religion R. M. Downes Ibadan Univ. Press 1971 pb. pp. 102.
The appearance of the booklet Owu in Yoruba History merits a well-
deserved welcome in West Indian academic circles. The work, described by its
authors as representing "a beginning rather than end" demonstrates, by its
encouraging results, what the judicious combination of documentary research,
field-work, archaeology and regard for oral evidence (dynastic traditions, songs,
proverbs) can reveal the way in which people and personalities inter-relate
with the society and events which they create or in which they are enmeshed. It
is significant that the book issues from the interdisciplinary collaboration of a
geographer and an historian and thus points to the bolder and more challenging
avenues of historical research than those so far predominant in the British West
Indies where Buisseret's Jamaica from the Air is unique, and worthwhile
archaeological findings are largely hidden away as essays in obscure foreign
journals or ephemeral pamphlets.
Apart from its methodological significance, the work has further relevance
for the West Indies. On first sight it may not be conceded great relevance to a
general understanding of West African history, since it appears to deal with
localized events in the historical evolution of one particular African people. I
would like however to illustrate the intrinsic importance of this work in the very
fabric of the history of the West Indiean peoples. On p. 79 we read:
"The fact that Yoruba were dragged into the slave trade in such
huge numbers and so soon before the trade was brought to an
end had several important consequences. Yoruba appeared in
Brazil and especially Bahia quite suddenly as a great mass of
persons speaking a common language and sharing a basically
common culture and religious beliefs. Their culture and religion
tended to dominate the sub-culture of slave society and to
submerge or absorb into itself surviving elements of African
culture deriving from other groups with a longer experience of
slavery and cultural adaptation The same was true to a great
extent in the British colony of Sierra Leone."
It is because West Indian historical documentation has so far remained
dumb on certain social aspects of the African presence in the Caribbean that
the authors of Owu have neglected to include Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad
and Grenada, at least, in their list of Yoruba cultural areas in the New World,
not to mention Cuba. My own field research in Trinidad and Jamaica,
particularly so in Tnnidad, amply illustrates the observation on p. 80 that
"The fact that Yoruba were enslaved in large numbers almost
at the very end of the history of the slave trade not only
meant that they tended to retain their culture in their new homes
but also that memories of the ancestral country towns and
villages were not submerged in the experience of foreign servi-
In Trinidad today Yoruba still lives in an appreciable number of ritual
chants connected with orisha worship, and to a lesser extent in sacred
formulaic utterances; while use of the Yoruba, Kikongo, Hausa and Fon
languages have declined sharply since about the 1930's though still in limited
use. But apart from language the retention of tribal culinary skills, the
observation of certain rites de passage, the popularity (only now on the
wane) of a considerable number of co-operative friendly societies, the
persistence of African musical techniques, and a whole social and religious
nexus of personal and organizational relationships have formed a disregarded
sub-culture in the island. Yet these are traceable to a post-slavery renaissance
of African (overwhelmingly Yoruba) culture in the latter half of the 19th
century brought about by the introduction of "liberated slaves" as indentured
labourers into the West Indies. Several of the children and grandchildren of
these workers can today cite the tribal and sub-tribal provenance of their
forebears. And it is in this connection that I wish to show, through particular
instances, the importance of a work like Owu.
Many of the Yoruba and Hausa descendants refer to wars in Africa
contemporaneous with the enslavement of their ancestors. Mention is made of
the Hausa-Yoruba wars. The fratricidal Yoruba wars which followed in the
wake of the Hausa-Yoruba confrontation and the disintegration of Oyo, capital
of the Yoruba empire. In Owu in-depth analysis of some of these wars leads on
from a very valuable introduction sketching the religio-political mechanisms of
the Oyo empire, thus placing the wars in their historical, political, economic
and demographic context. To follow the details of these political upheavals in
19th century Yorubaland is to understand why most Yoruba descendants in
Trinidad specify that their grandparents were Egba or Ijebu, or from the
Ijesha-Ekiti district. Ibadan, itself a 19th century refugee town, is often
mentioned. It even appears in a military context in a song of defiance sung by
an ageing lady whose mother came from Ikole in the northern Ekiti area, but
who may have been encamped or imprisoned in Ibadan for some time pre-
vious to her transhipment. In the song a challenger boasts:
won di mi l'owo they tied my hands
won di mi l'ese they tied my feet
mo jo o were I danced (out of the bonds) madly
(about ogun ti mo ja n'Ibadan the war that I fought in Ibadan),
The same song makes mention of the formidable law-enforcing Oro cult
sacred to the people of Owu and to the Egba. Another song by the same
informant is a prisoner's lament to his parents now that bata ide ni mo wo
l'ese it is brass shoes I wear on my feet an obvious reference to prisoner
or slave shackles. Yet another Trinidadian traces her ancestry to the royal
house of Oyole the familiar Yoruba name for Old Oyo, and remembers the
name of Afonja, whose challenge to the authority of the king of Oyo triggered off
the catastrophic Yoruba wars. In further mentioning the presence of relatives
in Ijebu, in southern Yorubaland, this lady may in fact be indicating the
destination of the family in its flight from the war-ridden northern territories.
Equally interesting is the statement echoed from her grandfather that the
enslavement of black people was caused by wars among Africans. Though not
the case in respect of some tribes, this was true of the Yoruba. The grandfather
further attributed slavery to the punishment inflicted by God on the African
people because they forsook their God-given religion (a reference to Islam's
confrontation with polytheism cf. Owu pp. 19 29). He had also claimed
that the specific war which led himself and other Yorubas into slavery was
begun in a market-place because of a dispute between two women over stall-
space. In fact, the Owu war of pivotal importance in the history of 19th
century Yorubaland was brought about by the conflict of Ijebu, Ife and
Owu interests over the famous market-own of Apomu. The destruction of
Owu by the Ijebu stemmed directly from an incident at the market-place
itself. The oral version recorded in Owu involves only one woman trader,
and details differ from those collected in Trinidad. But this is the sort of
discrepancy one expects from word-of-mouth information, but the similarity
in the main outline of the two records must impress the researcher.
It is therefore with eagerness that one looks forward to the appearance of
other indepth studies of African historical events, both for their analysis of
socio-political situations and also because of the possible light they may shed on
the hidden courses of our own history. Unfortunately the dating of certain
events is sometimes not readily evident in the book under review, and the
rather helpful maps are not indicated on the Contents page. But the style of
writing makes for absorbing reading and reflects the liveliness of the cover il-
lustration which highlights the principal weapons of 19th century Yoruba
warfare in an almost symbolic manner an arrow and a horse of the famous
Oyo cavalry dissected by the cutlass, fighting tool of the Owu people, and
by the European gun, an armament of no minor significance in the cause
and course of the Yoruba wars.
Tiv Religion is a sensitively written dissertation on the philosophy and
socio-religious customs of the Tiv who inhabit part of the Benue Plateau region
of Nigeria. Written by a one-time British Colonial Civil Servant on evidence
collected in the 1930s, it follows in the tradition of works in a similar field by
Tempels among the Congo, and Rattray among the Ashanti. In fact, Downes
shows the same respect for and appreciation of the Tiv and their customs that
Rattray, after a number of reservations expressed in his earlier writings,
eventually arrived at regarding the Ashanti of the then Gold Coast.
Because of his liberal orientation, Downes is able to see both uniqueness in
Tiv thought and the universality of certain of its religious and artistic concepts
and symbols. Perhaps the mythical symbolism of water, blood, and of
particular birds and animals is of greatest interest. Water separates the world
of the seen from that of the unseen, which is why a coffin is called a boat.
(Compare Norse mythology). Blood is a fertility symbol, indicative of health
and restoration, and is used in this sense in all spheres of human activity, social,
religious as well as political. And of those animals which Tiv thought invests
with singular spiritual force, none is more powerful than the leopard, while
birds associated with night and water carry a spiritual aura.
Spiritual force or wisdom is the quality called tsav. Some unfortunate
men are perceived of as lacking tsav and are referred to as "empty-chested",
a phrase used with the same overtones in Gabriel Okara's novel The Voice
set among the Ijaw people of south-eastern Nigeria. But only after initiatory
rites can men of tsav develop the ability to "cross the water" This is a power
which can and ought to be used for purposes of putting right the tar the
tribe, the clan, the family, the land, the world. But there are those who use tsav
unconstitutionally. Such men are in league with the forces of evil, the witches.
In its discussion of Tiv concepts of evil and of practices to effect its defeat, one
sees not only a correspondence with other such beliefs throughout Africa, but
also a philosophically and psychologically perceptive means of coming to terms
with human nature, if not so successful a method of dealing with the difficulties
of the physical environment. Examination of such a thought-system would well
repay West Indian study, not merely for the particular reason that the Tiv
concept of witches and their behaviour resemble so closely our ideas of the
soucouyant or old hag, but also because such study would make the West
Indian more aware of the wider philosophy behind the much-denigrated
These two publications are issued by the Ibadan University Press and their
conception and technical execution are a credit to the enterprise of a Third
World academic institution established at the same time as the University of
the West Indies which as yet offers its staff and student community no such
- MAUREEN WARNER-LEWIS
PERSPECTIVE OF BLACKNESS
Wilfred Cartey's BLACK IMAGES, New York, Teachers College,
Columbia University, 1970. xiv, 189 pp.
Cartey's book is interesting for several reasons: it is one of the few
infrequent critical works that make some reference to West Indian writing,
when not entirely devoted to that subject; it reveals also, as many other
works in this category have shown, the peculiar difficulties with which the
prospective critic of West Indian literature, and in fact of Black Literature, has
to come to terms. Much of this literature is revolutionary with a charac-
teristic idiom of its own and occasionally we find evidence of formal
structures that are deliberately iconoclastic. All these qualities set it apart
from the main stream of twentieth century English literary tradition. Nowhere
is this as operative as in the Black poetry that has emerged in the past half
century. Because some of the peculiar literary features of this literature have
not been appreciably absorbed by many critics writing on the subject we find
many a critic whose erudition suffers largely because there is a basic lack of
critical tools, appropriate terminology, clear-cut perspective and relevant
critical and valuative norms. The effect of all these combined can be
Dr. Cartey's book shows some of these limitations. The result is an unusual
tendency to over-simplify and to emphasize only those aspects of the works
which prove the thesis, with little or no regard for tangible exceptions. This in
itself is not a great danger if it is guided, at the same time, by a depth of critical
insight and analytical finesse. But when the comparative approach which is Dr.
Cartey's usual style degenerates into a mere catalogue of superficialities with
little regard for relevant differentiations, then one has ample justification to
doubt the very relevance of the exercise, especially if it happens to be a
belaboured theme that is in question.
Thus disciplinary limitation and the unavailability, as yet, of any set of
established black aesthetic values and critical criteria to fall back on,
combine to weaken the overall impact to Dr. Cartey's critical commentary. In
the introductory note, Dr. Cartey makes an explicit statement of the theme of
Black Images, with an implied delimitation of its scope.
Negro poetry is, first and foremost, an essential element in the process of
self-discovery. This book presents and analyzes some of the principal ways in
which the black man has been portrayed in poetry, tracing his literary
evolution from the image of slave to one of human distinction. It focuses finally
upon the black man as a powerful part of cultural development, and the poetry
of this part makes a music all of its own. (p. xi).
In a not surprising laudatory fashion, a publishers' notice on the book
introduced the work as an attempt by the author to delineate "the special place
black Antillean poetry holds in the minds of its creators, native readers, and
foreign observers. Appropriately, the publicity note went on, "the rhythms and
forms of the poetry itself swing through Cartey's analytical observations, which
are supported by historical, cultural, and political discussions." (New York
Review of Books, April 8, 1971, p. 23). In retrospect, this reads like the usual
advertisers' note; a response which may well have been suggested by the grand
design of the author even though in the end the achievement falls far short of the
What we find in Black Images, in brief, is a sequence of chapters: the
first on the emergence of the black stereotype in the seventeenth century and
the appearance and survival of this stereotype in poetry leading up to a period
of revolt by black writers against that tradition and the assertion of the black
identity. The next three chapters, ostensibly, are an attempt to show the
manifestations of this assertion in the works of three Spanish-speaking
Caribbean poets: the white Cuban poet Emilio Ballagas, the Puerto Rican poet,
Luis Pales Matos, and the eminent Afro-Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen. The
concluding chapter deals with various black poets from different geographical
locations and varied cultural settings who "writing since 1945, revolt not as
workers but as black men." (p.xiii). In this group, he lumps the three exponents
of negritude: Aime Cesaire, Leon Damas and Leopold Sedar Senghor, and
somewhat out of place in the sequence, Claude McKay who is mentioned very
briefly a few times in the book.
At a time when many Blacks are coming to realize the racial prejudice
which the term "Negro" implies (as the author himself admits in his
introduction) one wonders why he consistently uses "Negro" as a descriptive
and qualitative term. Although Dr. Cartey attempts some kind of chronology in
his references, Black Images is by no means a historical survey, and the
superficial treatment of the theme of the book reminds us too well of some of the
difficulties one encounters in trying to evaluate and interpret some of the more
engaging works of black writers. It seems to me that the prospective critic of
this literature needs not only an erudite mind and an intellectual capacity to
absorb the materials within his reach, but also, and perhaps more significant in
terms of relevant criticism, some degree of self-immersion, and an alert and
involved sensibility which can receive with little difficulty the telegraphed
messages from the inner minds of these writers. These messages incidentally
have a close link with the nature of the historical moment, and situation in
which the black writer finds himself. Unfortunately, there is very little
evidence of the latter qualities in Black Images.
There is a basic imbalance in the valuation of the works of the more
significant writers who are relevant to the subject; added to this is the critical
problem of arriving at a workable set of criteria for selective representation.
One wonders, for example, why Dr. Cartey chose the white Cuban poet Emilio
Bellagas as an appropriate poet to illustrate the development of a Black
awareness. As he points out, the treatment of blacks in Bellegas's writings
cannot help but perpetuate the stereotype. Dr. Cartey's comment on West In-
dian poetry vis-a-vis the theme of the book illustrates the danger of some of
these assumptions. The comment is very significant because it happens to be
the only paragraph where he makes specific reference to West Indian poetry as
a body of writing as distinct from incidental references to lines by West
Indian poets which happen to prove a point.
Dr. Cartey argues that:
"In the English-speaking Caribbean, the theme of the Negro, the theme of
the black man, has not yet become part of the poetry in any corporate sense.
The theme has won only scattered and fragmentary treatment there. It should
be noted that the people of the West Indies maintain,'with the greatest pride,
and affectation and folly, distinctions classifications among skin shades, while
people of the United States are either white or non-white. In the United States,
there is a stigma attached not only to skin colour but also to blood constitutions,
and having blood of any race but white means condemnation. Recognition of
many groups in the West Indies, the lack of unity that results, may explain the
diffuse nature of Negro poetry there."
One would excuse this kind of misconception of the nature of West Indian
poetry if it referred to a particular current within the larger stream; if it
referred to, say, the work of those West Indian poets who, up till the first three
decades of the century, were still suffering from the hangover of a decadent
nature romanticism. But since then, the examples of Claude McKay of the
Harlem period and after, George Campbell in the 1940s, Martin Carter in the
early 1950s and, in more recent years, Edward Brathwaite in his trilogy, give
incontrovertible evidence of the permanence of that very theme which Dr.
Cartey plays down in the poetry of the English-speaking Caribbean.
The human presence of the Black became an established and accepted
reality not so much in the poetry of those writers he has given special
prominence, as in the poetry of many black writers which must include Imamu
Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), and Edward Brathwaite to cite two examples. The
author points out in a succinct comment one of the fundamental qualities of
Black American poetry. In his words: "the tone of Negro poetry of the United
States is incantatory.... ascensional. The poetry is of the spirit, it flees
constantly from its circumstances, flees and moves upward from its first
dimension the earth." That much is true. But the level of existence as distinct
from reaching to that level has been the ultimate aspiration, I presume, in
Black American writing. For if this "ascension" becomes an interminable
progression, then there will be no self-realization, because the ultimate has not
been attained. I think this attainment has taken place and has been articulated
very forcibly and eloquently too in much of the recent writing of black
Americans. In West Indian poetry as in Black American poetry the movement
has led to a level of existence as well as of inescapable presence and
essence. This is the experience of reading, to cite the same poets once again, the
works of Imamu Amiri Baraka and Edward Brathwaite. It is interesting to note
that in a work based on the theme outlined above, the author could afford to
ignore the achievements of Imamu Amini Baraka who is not mentioned, not
even in passing, throughout the book in which aspiration and ascensionall"
motion has led to assertion and consolidation of the recovered image.
But this is a book influenced, one suspects by a liberal aesthetic value
system. Essentially a work of reconciliation based on the rationale provided by
a; writer like Leopold Sedar Senghor, with the toned-down element of protest, it
is not accidental that the book should end with the final word from the same
poet with the manifest belief and confession that: "Love is my marvel."
One must concede to Dr. Cartey his manifest erudition,scholarly finesses,
and a delightful style which ranges from the deceptive plainness of a large
portion of the book to the circumstantially rhetorical flourishes of some of his
introductory paragraphs. His copious use of original Spanish and French texts
with simultaneous translations in the text, as well as in his superb footnotes
constitute an indisputable scholarly asset. Nor does Dr. Cartey leave us in
doubt over the range of the materials at his disposal. So the quarrel, then,
is with critical perspective and the uncertain slant in his interpretations. His
ostensible anxiety not to be offensive in his interpretations leads inevitably to a
final reconciling pose. Whichever way we look at these failings of an otherwise
superb critical mind they reveal to us some of the hard truths of, and the pitfalls
in attempts to establish critical and valuative norms, the difficulty of finding a
true and relevant perspective and, perhaps more instructive, the need to
deepen our critical insight, even if at the expense of a slow growth of the field of
vision. Ideally, one would like to see the deepening and the widening of scope of
vision as complements. Current superficialness in the criticism of black writing
is hard to explain: is it the urgency of the historical moment which seems to
demand a definite statement of the black situation; the commercialization of
academics; or is it that conventional critical norms and attitudes are
inadequate for a meaningful study of black writing. I only hope it is the last-
SAMUEL OMO ASEIN
Study in the Alienation of a Creole Woman
Jean Rhys's Voyage in the Dark:
Voyage in the Dark1 is the tale of Anna Morgan, a young Creole
woman raised on the Windward Island of Dominica2, whose stiff British
grandmother takes her to England to give her a "real chance" (56). Anna joins
a provincial touring company, and travels with it through grim British towns
for two years. She meets Walter Jeffries, a dull but kindly well-to-do man, who
keeps her for the good part of a year. After their relationship peters out, Anna
drifts into prostitution, and eventually becomes pregnant by one of her one-
night lovers. Alone, broke, and frightened, Anna seeks an abortion with money
begged from Walter. The abortion succeeds, although Anna nearly bleeds to
death. She regains consciousness in time to hear the doctor who has attended
her say that "she'll be all right... Ready to start all over again in no time, I've
no doubt" (159). Her final thought is that she will begin again, not as the doctor
suggests, but "new and fresh" (159).
Anna's initial experience with a fast-moving, cold England does not
completely destroy her will, but it does intensify the helplessness bred by her
sluggish early years in the West Indies. She could never "swank" as her friend
Maudie suggested she ought (9), for she is made of simpler stuff. Anna lived a
leisurely life on Dominica, an island where the sky was "terribly blue and very
close to the earth" (63), and where the earth sometimes "trembles; sometimes
you can feel it breathe" (47). It is an island of blacks who celebrate with dance
and song their annual three-day Masquerade. It is a nominally Christian island,
with the breath of obeah quietly stirring superstition. Anna had tried to identify
with this latter world:
I always wanted to be black. I was happy because Francine
(their black maid) was there, and I watched her hand waving
the fan backwards and forwards, and the beads of sweat that
rolled from underneath her handkerchief. Being black is warm
and gay, being white is cold and sad (27).
The men in her family have long associated with black women, peopling the
island with mulattoes. She accepts without question the many "cousins" who
congregate at Christmas. It is an unsophisticated, unchanging world, where
Anna feels secure: "The poor do this and the rich do that, the world is so-and-so
and nothing can change it" (37). Yet an alien force does change Anna's life
when Hester, her stepmother, insists that she not only act like an English girl,
but move to England itself. She frowns on Anna's crude, but natural, jokes (60),
and on her easy "Negro" ways. Years later and miles away from Dominica,
Hester chides Anna:
I always did my best for you and I never got any thanks for it.
I tried to teach you to talk like a lady and behave like a lady
and not like a nigger and of course I couldn't do it. Impossible
to get you away from the servants. That awful sing-song voice
you had! Exactly like a nigger you talked and still do (56)
This, of course, is the root of Anna's maladjustment. She is of English
descent, but has grown up among blacks, and among white persons steeped in
black ways. Her island is an English possession, yet its people are a hybrid-
neither black nor white. Anna's stepmother, like Rochester in Miss Rhys's last
novel, Wide Sargasso Sea,3 does not understand or tolerate the Creole. Anna
attempts to conform to her stepmother's demands, but in her heart she desires
to be black, because being black, as she says, is being young forever, while
being white is "getting like Hester, and all the things you get-old and sad and
Throughout this novel Miss Rhys describes an innate weakness in
Anna a lack of will, an absence of energy, a fear of striking out on her own.
She implies that this lethargy is a result of Anna's slow-moving tropical ex-
perience. Perhaps had it not been for this enervating influence, Anna would
have resisted her stepmother's attempts to reform her. But she gives in and
travels to England, where she is to make her fortune with a provincial touring
company in countless back alleys and dingy boardinghouses in grimy
towns. That Anna is different, that she is not at heart the Englishwoman
Hester hopes she is, becomes evident in her constantly negative, confused
reaction to England:
It was as if a curtain had fallen, hiding everything I had ever
known. It was almost like being born again. The colours were
different, the smells different, the feeling things gave you right
down inside yourself was different. Not just the differences
between heat, cold, light, darkness, purple, grey. But a difference
in the way I was frightened and the way I was happy. I didn't
like England at first. I couldn't get used to the cold ... Sometimes
it was as if I was back there (Dominica) and as if England were
a dream. At other times England was the real thing and out
there was the dream, but I could never fit them together (7 8).
This dream-like quality is typical of many of Anna's descriptions of
England, with its cold, greyness, sameness, and menacing houses on dark
streets. When she can remember Dominica clearly, she paints a vivid picture
with colour, smell and warmth. Anna says, for instance, that the island looked
"all crumpled into hills and mountains as you would crumple a piece of paper in
your hand ... rounded green hills and sharply-cut mountains"; (15). There are
flowers whose names she recalls with pleasure: "Stephanotis, hibiscus, yellow-
bell, jasmine, frangipanni, corolita" (67), yet she remembers this litany of
flowers from an experience she can no longer touch, and that limits her
ability to adjust to England. As Anna admits, when she thinks about the
island, she cannot be certain that it is not a dream, nor can she be certain that
England exists. The product of an experience alien to her English acquain-
tances, Anna stands in a void between the island she left behind, and the
island where she cannot belong. Miss Rhys never says this in the novel, yet
I think the evidence is plain enough that Anna Morgan's difficulties are
much the same as those of Antoinette Cosway, the heroine of Wide Sargasso
Sea, and of many Creoles who attempt to return to the countries their families
left generations before. Anna, then, like the man with an infection who
awakens each morning with the hope that it is miraculously gone, tries to
awaken from the horror of England:
She'll smile and put the tray down and I'll say Francine I've
had such an awful dream it was only a dream she'll say and
on the tray the blue cups and saucer and the silver teapot so I'd
know for certain that it had started again my lovely life like
a five-finger exercise played very slowly on the piano like a
garden with a high wall round it and every now and again
thinking I only dreamt it never happened (115).
She realizes, of course, that Dominica is gone forever when she hears the
fading tinkling of a piano while passing through an English slum. Its faint music
is an echo from her childhood and the island she cannot return to.
The obvious physical symptom of Anna's maladjustment is the cold.
Maudie, her English friend, remarks without sympathy or understanding of
what it is to live in the tropics, that "she can't help it. She was born in a hot
place. She was born in the West Indies or somewhere The girls call her the
Hottentot. Isn't it a shame?" (12). In one paragraph on page fifteen, Anna
remarks about the coldness of the street, the coldness of her dressingroom
with its draught, the cold nights (twice), and the "damned cold nights." This
coldness is certainly physical, but it is also symbolic of spiritual coldness:
We went out into the street to say good-bye to them. I was
thinking it was funny I could giggle like that because in my heart
I was always sad, with the same sort of hurt that the cold
gave me in my chest I got very close to the fire. I was, think-
ing, "It's October. Winter's coming" (14).
It is plain in this passage that Anna equates the damp and chill of England
with the psychological alienation she experiences there. A "Hottentot" an
outcast, there is no fire hot enough to thaw her body, no person sympathetic
enough to help her confront the world without fear.
Because Anna cannot reconcile herself to a clammy England, nor to a life
that demands she be more aggressive and less the pretty Creole girl "untrained
for work or life,"5 she clings to Walter as a buffer against the world. Their
relationship is ghastly. Anna picks him up on the streets of Southsea; Walter
renews the acquaintance a few weeks later in London. Although her initial
reaction to him is hatred, because she thinks him rude and sneering (12), Anna
agrees to meet him for dinner. This date is the first of many in the private
dining-rooms of London clubs, with the fireplace, roses on the table, and
bedroom with red velvet curtains that become emblematic in this narrative of
Anna's escape from reality. Yet even with Walter she is cold. A virgin, Anna
rejects Walter's initial advance, then lies alone in the bedroom a long time:
"The fire was like a painted fire; no warmth came from it. When I put my hand
against my face it was very cold and my face was hot. I began to shiver. I got up
and went back into the next room" (21). I think that Anna returns to Walter, and
eventually sleeps with him; she needs the curious security their liaison affords
her. She admits that "being afraid is cold like ice. (76). In the above
passage, then, her chill is more than physical. It is symptomatic of a vague fear
that clings to her, and to almost every heroine of Miss Rhys's.
While it is difficult to determine where this fear originates, Anna suggests
that it has always been with her: I'd been afraid for a long time. There's
fear, of course, with everybody. But now it had grown, it had grown gigantic; it
filled me and it filled the whole world" (82). In the warmth of Dominica,
surrounded by loving servants, Anna remained untroubled by doubts and
insecurities. But as she moves through the hostile England of 1914, her fears -
of losing something or someone, of being scorned intensify to the point where
she hungers for human contact, even for the coolness and condescension of
Walter Jeffries. He scorns Anna's position in society, yet she craves the
seclusion of their rendezvous, the warmth of the coffee, the liqueurs, and the
fire, and the redness of the roses on the table. Being with Walter provides
protection from the chill of her life; yet their relationship leaves Anna straddled
between happiness and desolation, because while her lover is gentle and kindly,
his house seems to her unfriendly and sneering (43). Her fear increases with
time and the degradation of being a kept woman. By her nineteenth year, Anna
foreshadows the terror of persons that Miss Rhys portrays in her later
But I was thinking that it was terrifying the way they look at
you. So that you know that they would see you burnt alive
without even turning their heads away; so that you know in your-
self that they would watch you burning without even blinking
once. Their glassy eyes that don't admit anything so definite as
hate. Only just that underground hope that you'll be burnt alive,
tortured, where they can have a peep. And slowly, slowly, you
feel the hate back starting (103).
This fear seems exaggerated, yet to Anna it is genuine. She lived a sheltered
childhood on an island that was perhaps two generations behind the times.
Then she was not only thrust into a foreign country, but into an occupation,
and thus a way of life, peopled by men and women fighting to survive.
Anna cannot compete with these persons. Her adrenalin does not flow
harder to propel her through her difficult life, but ebbs, leaving her
probably more neurasthenic than she would have been in the blazing heat
of her homeland.
Anna's fear and inertia render her vulnerable to everyone slightly stronger
than herself. Her helpless face invites scorn, yet she ignores the warnings of
those who urge her to keep her armour up: "Everybody says that if you start