MaComère ( MaComère )

Material Information

Alternate Title:
Physical Description:
Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars
Hyacinth M. Simpson
Place of Publication:
Manitoba, Canada
Publication Date:


serial   ( sobekcm )


MaComère is a refereed journal that is devoted to scholarly studies and creative works by and about Caribbean women in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean diaspora. It is the journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS), an international organization founded in 1995. MaComère is published annually at the end of each year. Publication of MaComère is supported by the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Arts, the Department of English, the Caribbean Research Centre at Ryerson University and The Department of Modern and Classical Languages at George Mason University.
General Note:
The word macomère is widely used by women in the Caribbean to mean "my child's godmother"; "my best friend and close female confindante"; "my bridesmaid, or another female wedding member of a wedding party of which I was a bridesmaid"; "the godmother of the child to whom I am also godmother"; "the woman who, by virtue of the depth of her friendship, has rights and privileges over my child and is a surrogate mother." This name seems appropriate because it so clearly expresses the intimate relations which women in the Caribbean share, is so firmly gendered, and honors the importance of friendship in relation to the important rituals of marriage, birth, and (implied) death. Moreover, macomère is a French Creole word which, although related to the French language, has taken on a structure and meaning which is indigenous to the Caribbean. The word is spelled in this way, instead of in the clearly Creole manner (macumè, makumeh, macoomè, macomeh, and many other variants), so that the female connotations of the word are highlighted and those meanings which apply to males ("a womanish or gossipy man"; "a homosexual") are less obvious. In those islands where Krèol (linguistic term for the French patos) is the first language, the same term is used for both females and males with meaning determined by the context. In islands such as Trinidad, however, where English has overlain Krèol, the Creole (linguistic term for the English patois) has incorporated the redundant my macomè and macomè man, thus reinforcing both the perceptions of intimacy and the female quality of the term. Interestingly enough, Richard Allsopp in The Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage (Oxford University Press, 1996) has indicated the possibility that maku in Belize, with the meaning "midwife", is also derived from macomère. Hence, the word forces us to recall the continuities and correspondences in Caribbean languages and cultures, as well as the dynamic, creative, and transforming power of Creoles. In the purely English-speaking islands, the only comparable term is godmother (usually the mother's best friend). In the Hispanophone Caribbean, there is the similar comadre, although, as we would expect, some of the connotations are different. Join us in continuing to interrogate all the connotations of the meaning inherent in this culturally rich lexical item from the Caribbean Creoles.

Record Information

Source Institution:
FIU: Digital LIbrary of the Caribbean
Holding Location:
FIU: Digital LIbrary of the Caribbean
Rights Management:
All rights reserved by the source institution.
Resource Identifier:
oclc - 39971238
System ID:

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Volume 9
ISSN 1521-9968
Copyright 2007 by Hyacinth M. Simpson
All rights reserved

Submission Criteria for MaComere:

MaComere is a refereed journal that is devoted to scholarly studies and creative works by and
about Caribbean women in the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean diaspora. It is a journal of the
Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS), an international organization
founded in 1995. MaComBre is published once per year in the fall. The webpage for MaComere

Submissions of critical articles, creative writing, interviews, and book reviews in English, as well
as in Spanish, French and Dutch, are invited, especially from members of ACWWS. All manuscripts
should be submitted in triplicate-on disc formatted in WordPerfect 6.1 (or higher) or Word 6.0 (or
higher) and in two hard copies sent in the mail. Authors should submit no more than 5 poems and/
or 2 samples of prose fiction at any one time. Critical articles should not exceed 7,000 words and
book reviews should be approximately 1,000 to 1,500 words in length. Authors should follow the
most recent edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. All articles are refereed
blind by at least two readers; consequently, the name(s) of the authors) should appear only on a
separate title page, which should also include the titles) of works) submitted, street address, tele-
phone, fax and email information and a brief biographical statement of no more than 50 words. A
self-addressed envelope (SAE) with loose postage adequate for a letter notifying authors of our
publication decision must be included with each submission. The journal does not accept unsolicited
material that has been previously published. The editors reserve the right to amend phrasing and
punctuation in articles and reviews accepted for publication.

All submissions and editorial correspondence should be sent to Hyacinth M. Simpson, Editor, MaCombre,
Department of English, Ryerson University, 350 Victoria Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5B 2K3;
telephone: 416-979-5000 ext. 6148; fax: 416-979-5110; e-mail:

Subscription rates for MaComere (including postage for regular mail): Individual: USD $25 per issue
and USD $18 per back issue (Volumes 1-5); Institutional: USD $35 per issue, USD $25 per back issue,
USD $140 for 4-year subscription (beginning with Volume 6), and USD $130 for back issue bundle
(1998-2002); members ofACWWS receive a single issue of MaComere with their yearly membership.

The editors do not assume responsibility for loss or damage to materials submitted. Nor do the editors,
staff, or financial supporters assume any legal responsibility for materials published in the journal.
Opinions expressed in contributions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views
of the editors, staff, and the journal's financial supporters

MaComere's Founding Editor: Jacqueline Brice-Finch

Cover image: Ardie Setropawiro, What's On A Woman s Mind, acrylic on canvas, 1.50 x 1 m, 1997

Cover logo by Marcia L. Spidell

Copyedited by Lisa LaFramboise

Typeset by Sandra Caya

Printed by Hignell Book Printing, Manitoba


Table of Contents

Vol. 9 2007

Helen Pyne-Timothy
About Our N am e............................................ ............................. 1

Hyacinth M. Simpson
From the Editor ................................................. .......................... 3

Short Stories
Ellen Ombre "A Spirit in the Ether"...................................7

Gisele Pineau "La vie-carnaval"........................................20

Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw
Writing Haiti: A Conversation with Edwidge Danticat .......30

Nara Araujo
The Story of a Voyage: Women's Travel Writing
in the Caribbean..............................................................42

St6phanie B6rard
Au Nom des Loa: Vaudou et Theatre dans
Ton beau capitaine de Simone Schwarz-Bart.................... 53

Seanna Sumalee Oakley
"Puttin' rainbow roun we mind":
Performing M igrant Identities ........................................... 69

Review Essay
Jonathan Rollins
Julia Alvarez's Saving the World....................................... 88

Book Reviews
Winfried Siemerling
Marie-C1lie Agnant's Le Livre d'Emma
(Translated by Zilpha Ellis) ............................................... 94

Andrea Medovarski
Marie-Elena John's Unburnable..................................98

Frank Birbalsingh
Brinda Mehta's Diasporic (Dis)locations: Indo-
Caribbean Women Writers Negotiate the Kala Pani......... 102

Notes on Contributors ................................................................ 107

Helen Pyne-Timothy

About Our Name

The word macomere is widely used by women in the Caribbean to mean
"my child's godmother"; "my best friend and close female confidante";
"my bridesmaid, or another female member of a wedding party in which
I was a bridesmaid"; "the godmother of the child to whom I am also god-
mother"; "the woman who, by virtue of the depth of her friendship, has
rights and privileges over my child and is a surrogate mother." The word
seemed appropriate as the name for the journal because it so clearly ex-
presses the intimate relations which women in the Caribbean share, is so
firmly gendered, and honours the importance of friendship in relation to
the rituals of birth, marriage, and death.
Moreover, macomere is a word which, although related to the French
language, has taken on a structure and meanings indigenous to the Carib-
bean. The word is spelled in this way (instead of as macum&, makumeh,
macoom&, macomeh for example) so that the female connotations of the
word are highlighted and those meanings which apply to males ("a wom-
anish or gossipy man"; "a homosexual") are less obvious.
In those islands where Kreol (the linguistic term for the French pa-
tois) is the first language, the word is used in reference to both females
and males, with meaning determined by the context. However, in some
islands such as Trinidad where English has overlain Krool, the Creole
(linguistic term for the English patois) has incorporated the redundant my
macome and macome man, thus reinforcing both the perceptions of inti-
macy and the female meanings associated with the word.
Interestingly, Richard Allsopp, in The Dictionary of Caribbean Eng-
lish Usage (Oxford University Press, 1996), has indicated the possibility
that maku (which means midwife) in Belize is also derived from ma-
comere. Hence, the word enables us to recall the continuities and corre-
spondences in Caribbean languages and cultures, as well as the dynamic,
creative, and transforming power of Creoles. In the English-speaking is-
lands, the only comparable term is godmother (usually the mother's best
friend). In the Hispanophone Caribbean, there is the similar comadre al-
though, as we would expect, some of the connotations are different.
Join us in continuing to interrogate all the connotations of this cultur-
ally rich lexical item from the Caribbean.

Hyacinth M. Simpson

From the Editor

In May 2006 when over a hundred academics, writers, and artists from
across the Caribbean, North America, the United Kingdom, and Europe
gathered in Fort Lauderdale to discuss and celebrate the work of Carib-
bean women, the event marked a milestone for the Association of Carib-
bean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS): its tenth anniversary
conference. Although the Association did not have its official launch until the
mid-1990s, the ACWWS can trace its origins back to April 1988 when the
first conference was held at Wellesley College. Since then, a conference has
been held every two years, with each event attracting scores of scholars, both
women and men, and showcasing the literary and artistic talents of Caribbean
women in the region and its diaspora.
The conferences themselves have become important occasions for
Caribbean studies; and MaCombre, which was founded a year after the
ACWWS was officially launched, has become the main vehicle for dis-
seminating scholarly and creative work about and by Caribbean women
presented at the conferences and beyond. Looking at the Table of Contents
for volumes of the journal produced over the years, it is clear that Ma-
Combre has become one of the main outlets, perhaps even the go-to jour-
nal, for insightful assessments in the niche subject of Caribbean women
across a variety of disciplines. For literary critics, new authors are intro-
duced and their work discussed alongside that of more established writers.
On a number of occasions, the journal has been honoured to be the first
venue of publication for new writing by award-winning Caribbean women
authors. Historians and other scholars in the humanities will find valuable
information in the journal's pages, as will theatre practitioners, NGO
workers and activists, educators, folklorists, anthropologists, political sci-
entists, and others.
That is because Caribbean women have always been active in build-
ing the region, reaching far and deep into every crevice to influence and
shape generations and their societies. As slaves, indentured labourers, and
independent migrants, their work helped make the region one of the rich-
est holdings for European empires and laid the foundations for the econo-
mies of contemporary Caribbean societies. Entire nations have been
populated through their bodies, and they have been active agents in bring-
ing about social and political change in the colonial and postcolonial pe-
riods. Caribbean women have been at the vanguard of waves of migration


across and out of the region, setting up commercial activities or finding
employment abroad to sustain themselves and families back home. They
have marched against racism and injustice in host countries while making
invaluable contributions to the social, cultural, economic and political
lives of their adopted homelands. And they have been vigilant in giving
us back images of ourselves through stories, music, the visual arts, and
other cultural productions.
The impact that women have had has not always been properly docu-
mented, and so an important part of MaCombre's mandate is to encourage
and publish scholarly and creative work that recover and chronicle wom-
en's contributions. Future issues of the journal will set the pace for this
direction in Caribbean studies. Anniversaries are usually a good time to
not only celebrate but to also assess current state of affairs and set goals
for the future. As such, much of what is included in this issue both reflects
important trends in past issues and points to new content developments in
the journal's future. The cover image, What's On A Woman's Mind by
Surinamese artist Ardie Setropawiro, is a visual rendition of the editorial
team's goal to give voice to every aspect of the lives and work of Carib-
bean women. One of the ways of doing that is to showcase on the journal's
covers art about, and especially by, Caribbean women, and to have more
critical engagement with woman-produced and woman-centred art in the
journal's pages. Future issues will, then, introduce more artwork and pub-
lish more art criticism. As indicated in the title for this issue, "Caribbean
Woman: Imagining / Creating / Theorizing," which was also the title for
the tenth anniversary conference, the imaginative work of Caribbean
women has always been important to the Association and will continue to
be promoted in the journal. The two pieces of fiction chosen for this
issue-an excerpt from a novel by Ellen Ombre translated from the origi-
nal Dutch into English and a short story by Gisele Pineau printed in
French-highlight not only the diversity of cultural and linguistic contexts
from which Caribbean women write but also how important it is not to
allow linguistic or other differences to stand in the way of cross-cultural
MaComBre will continue to encourage cross-cultural readings by aim-
ing for a workable balance in the selection of pieces representing the re-
gion's and its diasporic communities' different cultural and language
traditions. The ten pieces included in this issue provide a glimpse into just
how complex and multilayered Caribbean lives are, reaching as they do
across not only languages but also oceans and continents. Ombre, Pineau,
and Edwidge Danticat, the latter interviewed by Elizabeth Walcott-Hack-
shaw, all reside outside the Caribbean, but distance has not dulled their
perception of, or their insights into, the region. In fact, living elsewhere


while maintaining a home in or feeling some sense of attachment to the
Caribbean is, itself, a central concern in Caribbean writing. Certainly, the
idea of home-where it is, how we create a sense of it-pervades Danti-
cat's fiction; and it is one of the main preoccupations of the protagonist in
Julia Alvarez's Saving the World, and of Alvarez herself, as Jonathan Rol-
lins's penetrating reading of the novel shows. In Marie-Elena John's novel
Unburnable, reviewed by Andrea Medovarski, a return journey home to
the Caribbean from the United States is deemed necessary to self-discov-
ery and the release of an entire community from past traumas. And, in her
finely-tuned analysis of the poetry of Jean "Binta" Breeze, Lillian Allen,
and Pamela Mordecai, Seanna Oakley reveals that negotiation of home
and community is a daily concern for diasporic Caribbeans.
Such negotiations are not always easy and their attendant transforma-
tions are too often elusive. In his review of Zilpha Ellis's translation of
Marie-Celie Agnant's Le Livre d'Emma, Winfried Siemerling points to the
difficulties inherent in the cultural translations that must necessarily at-
tend the physical movement of people from one place to another. As in
Emma's case, the failure of such translations can have devastating conse-
quences. However, when successful, the results can be powerful. Witness
St6phanie B6rard's analysis of the centrality ofvodou (born in Haiti of the
syncretism of African religious forms with Christianity brought from Eu-
rope) to Simone Schwarz-Bart's play Ton beau capitaine; and Pineau's use
of carnival (the spectacular fusion of African festive and masking tradi-
tions with the masques and revelries of Catholic Europe) as both conceit
and main event in her story. Frank Birbalsingh's review ofBrinda Mehta's
Diasporic (Dis)locations and Nara Araujo's article on travel writing point
to other contexts and moments of negotiation: women of Indian origin
making their way across the kala pani and making a space for themselves
in Caribbean societies; and nineteenth-century representations of the re-
gion based on European and American women's perception of themselves
in relation to Caribbean women.
As the ACWWS looks to and embraces the challenges and goals of
the future, readers of MaComere can rest assured that they will continue
to find fiction and criticism of the highest standard in the journal's pages.

Ryerson University


(Translated by Arno and Erica Pomerans)

One Thursday in December, Lea drove through fog and drizzle from Amster-
dam to distant Vlissingen in a hired Ford Transit full of suitcases and card-
board boxes. A week before she left, Moses Aron had rung from Paramaribo.
She had met him three years earlier in the roof garden at the Hotel Krasnapol-
sky in Dominee Street. There were several beautiful nineteenth-century
wooden houses with narrow verandas in that street, but the hotel itself was in
the Eastern bloc architectural style much favoured in developing countries-
too large, too full of angles, and crude in detail. Concrete predominated in the
roof garden, as everywhere else in the building. The old cityscape of Para-
maribo, so familiar to Lea, had been mutilated by demolition and housing

Lea had sat there musing, thinking that if she had been a local instead
of a nostalgic visitor then her head wouldn't be nearly so full of imperfect
images. She had missed out on the town's progress. Her memory provided her
only with a load of unsorted colour slides.

MaComere 9 (2007): 7-19


She had been waiting for Uncle Dennis, a second cousin of her moth-
er's. He had insisted on the meeting. Her attention had been drawn to a man
of about fifty, heavily built, his head a mass of frizzy grey curls. He was the
sort of man who remembered everyone's first name and who shouted, "Hello,
who have we here!" at new visitors to the roof garden, the standard happy
hour behaviour of a regular in a popular Amsterdam pub. There is a certain
type among Surinamese students in the Netherlands who spend their time in
pubs where lawyers, notaries, and brokers fulminate over their beer. Their
studies finished, they then transport the arrogant tone picked up in the pub and
the braggadocio that goes with it across the ocean to Paramaribo.

"Who is that?" she had asked the waiter when the man, alerted by an
electronic "Fiir Elise," had briskly extracted his mobile phone from his breast
pocket before making the entire caf6 privy to his telephone conversation.

"That's Moses Aron, the entrepreneur. He hangs around here half the
day chatting with every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and doing business in between.
He finds tourists here, clients for his travel company."


"As a man?" the waiter asked familiarly, hiccupping with suppressed

"To go travelling with."

"Travelling?" said the waiter. "You've only just arrived."

"I haven't been up country since the guerrilla days."

"You're not the only one. But if that's what you mean by travelling,
everything's under control now, the guerrilla war is past history. And as far as
Moses is concerned, I'd let my little sister go travelling with him. He knows
the jungle like the back of his hand."

"Brother," he called, with a click of his fingers. "If you've finished with
your walkie-talkie, this lady would like to meet you."


Two days later she had left with twenty Dutch tourists led by Moses
Aron, first by bus to Brokopondo, where two dugouts were waiting for them,
then across the reservoir and on toward Tukunari Island.

Lea had not spoken to him since that trip, but she instantly conjured him
up in her mind's eye when he rang. "Lea, my girl," he said. "Your soul has
travelled ahead of you. You don't know how many people have told me you're
coming back home on a cargo ship. I didn't realize they still took passengers.
Listen, I want to ask you a favour. It's for a good cause."

"Depends on the cause," she stalled.

"I am busy setting up an NGO .... Nowadays if you want to get aid
from Holland, that's the route you have go down."

"I don't know anything about NGOs," said Lea.

"Non-governmental organizations. I am humbly asking for your help."

"Moses," said Lea. "I'm up to my ears. I'm leaving in about a week."

"It's important, Lea."

"But what can I do in such a short time?"

"We need money more than anything else, but second-hand clothes are
very welcome too. Our organization's working for the preservation of the
Maroon culture-of their individual character, I mean. It's getting more and
more watered down; the old traditions are going by the board. All the young
people want to move to the towns. Hello ... ?"

"I'm listening," Lea said.

"Let me tell you something. Recently a Miss Maroon competition was
held in the Cultural Centre here in Paramaribo. You should have heard the lady
who won, on her high horse as if she was Oprah Winfrey herself, going on about
'gender' this and 'gender' that. To think of it! By the way," said Moses, "where
will you be staying? Have you fixed something up, or will it be the Kras again?"


"I've rented a house in Rust en Vredestraat."

"Heavens! How much will that set you back? What? That much! Why on
earth didn't you ring me first?" Moses spoke as if they were old friends, family.

"I didn't think of you. How did you get my telephone number anyway?"

"I have my sources. But listen, you will be doing that little thing for us,
won't you?"

There was a lot about people like Moses that Lea disliked. They thought
in terms of "we" when it suited them. She herself thought more in terms of
"I." That had sometimes led to conflict to the point of estrangement, even with
her own relatives.

Lea thought of the old man who had spoken to her during that tour three years
before. He had been sitting on a small bench in the doorway of his hut wear-
ing a shabby pair of shorts, his chin resting on his stick. His belly, disfigured
by an umbilical hernia the size of an orange, protruded over his belt. He was
skinny, and had seemed to lack the strength for shooing away the flies that
were crawling over his face. He had stared fixedly ahead of him.
"A man of influence," Moses had stated. "How are you?" he asked the
old man in Saramaka. The man had sat immobile, scowling into the distance,
his silence mesmerizing.

Moses then shouted at a couple of the travellers who had gone on ahead
to come back. One was aiming her camera at an ancestral statue.

"I've told them often enough that taking photographs is forbidden," he
had railed under his breath, walking over to the woman.

Then, as if waking up, the old man had snapped out of his inertia.
"Haven't you brought anything for me?" he mumbled. "A shirt or something?"
Before Lea could think of a reply, she had felt Moses's peremptory hand on her


arm. "The group's got to stay together," he had cautioned and pulled her along
further into the village.

She also remembered Moses's address at the camp fire ringed round by
sunburnt eco-tourists. The lake, he had explained, was the result of the construc-
tion of a dam near Afobaka on the Suriname River. The Maroons had been
driven out of their villages and the jungle flooded. With the disappearance of
the flora and fauna, the biological balance had been destroyed, he went on. The
hydrological system had been upset, and the river had ceased to flow.

Moses had spoken with the practised tone of a hostess on a waterbus
doing the Amsterdam canals. But his story had been harrowing, full of hor-
rors. The fish stock had declined. The water hyacinths became rampant and
had to be sprayed with chemicals by aeroplane. Dengue was formerly un-
known in Suriname. No longer so. From Kenya to India, everywhere in the
tropics where man-made lakes like the Van Blommestein had been built, den-
gue had become a plague. Because of evaporation, the discharge from the lake
was not as great as had been anticipated. The output of the power station had
been disappointing.

"I," Moses had told them, "was born in one of the drowned villages.
The graves of my ancestors, hallowed shrines, now lie at the bottom of the
lake." Lea remembered how his performance had run away with his emotions,
making them seem all the more real, as in a tragedy. It had touched her.

"White coal, water power!" had rung like a magic incantation in Lea's
ears. "Black will be white. In the future, our country will produce its own
power!" Lea was already living in the Netherlands when the hydroelectric
power station was solemnly inaugurated thirty-five years before.

In the reservoir, thousands of bare tree skeletons stuck their grey tops above
the surface of the water. The giant forest had continued to grow even after the area
was inundated, like the hair and the nails of the dead. Even those who eschewed
sentimentality saw in them the arms of drowning people lifted in despair.


Moses had conducted the tourists to Libidoti, a Maroon village beside the
lake. The tumbledown overseer's house was no longer in use and the small
school was deserted. Half-naked girls at play had scuttled away from the eye of
the camera. And those who did let themselves be photographed had demanded
money. The village was pauperized and the inhabitants were apathetic, meekly
suffering the presence of uninvited visitors. The front door of a small wooden
hut with a corrugated iron roof had stood half open, a peepshow of grotesque
details: a three-seater divan the length of one wall, two heavy rustic oak arm-
chairs protected with plastic covers, a coffee table with a blonde doll on it in a
red lace ballet skirt. It looked like the interior of some small ground floor tene-
ment in a side street in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam.

The holiday trip had gradually turned into a pilgrimage, the village lane
into a via dolorosa. Yet Lea could not refuse his request. She rushed headlong
into organizing a collection, calling on friends and relatives. They were none
too liberal with their money, but were more so with old clothes. Better to give
the lot to Suriname on account of the old ties than to the former Yugoslavia,
even though conditions there were vile as well. Piles of clothes were brought
in. A woman complained that she had never seen a single article of her cloth-
ing again in any documentary about people in poverty-stricken areas. "And
I've been contributing for years!"

Doubts grew: why should those people be pleased to receive junk from
Holland? What good in the jungle was a washed-out designer blouse from
Edgar Vos where the care label said "Dry clean only"? The rags were like a
double-edged burden. Without those piles of cardboard boxes she would not
have had to hire the small van.

The boxes were stacked by the Filipino steward in an empty cabin.
"Enough cargo for a small container," the captain observed ironically.
Fifty-seven kilograms of cocaine had recently been found on his ship in a fruit
and vegetable container.


"You're going home," he stated.

"I live in Amsterdam," Lea explained.

"Business woman?"

"That depends on what you mean by business."

"What is your address in Paramaribo?"

"Rust en Vredestraat-peace and quiet street."

"Would you mind writing it down for me?" The captain, an Englishman,
studied the name of the street.

"With your family?"

"No, I've rented a house." She handed him her passport.

"Nice for you. Soon be spending Christmas with your own people."

This was the trip she had long planned, a leisurely escape from her
everyday cares, across the water to times gone by. Apart from the crew of the
Cottica, composed of European officers and Asian sailors, she was the only
person on board. What a good thing, Lea thought. Nothing is worse than hav-
ing to be sociable during a retreat. Her isolation would give her a chance to
prepare calmly for the reunion in Suriname, to bring her childhood images into
focus, to put the severing of connections of three years before into perspective.

She set her cabin in order, took out the books she had been looking for-
ward to reading, and laid Slauerhoff's biography on her pillow. She put new
batteries in her shortwave radio and, equipped for seclusion, locked her door.

The weather forecast was bad. The freighter, a Fyffes banana boat, left
Vlissingen harbour in a northwesterly gale in grey, angry water. The North
Sea was as dominant as it could be in autumn and winter. The crossing was
expected to take twelve days. The storm lasted at hurricane force for five.

The ship pitched, rolled, and yawed, helplessly propelled ever onwards.


Lea lay listlessly in her bed, letting herself be carried along like a yo-yo.
Meaningless days made way for meaningless nights. During lucid moments,
Slauerhoff's hefty biography, always within reach, gave her some comfort.
The photograph of his deathbed made her sob uncontrollably. She vomited
until she could vomit no more, just as she had done the last time she was sick
when she had taken a morning-after pill. You had to go and do something
again, she thought.

An eerily composed state of mind crept over her. She discovered de-
structive impulses in herself, but resisted all temptation.

One morning the steward knocked on her door to ask her for her signa-
ture. The clock was being put back.

"Why do I have to sign anything?"

"You have to know what time it is. It's regulation. We're travelling
against time and we're approaching the Azores."

"How long have we been at sea?" Lea asked.

"Five days. You ought to get up."


"You ought to go outside. I've put out a deck chair for you."

"Don't want to," Lea said.

"Captain's orders. I'll stay with you there for a while. There's a boat
drill this afternoon. You've got to be there."

The steward led her to the quarterdeck, helped her into the deck chair,
and crouched down beside her. Silently, he stared out at the distant horizon
with his dark eyes. She saw him picturing Manila and the house he had started
building years before, and in the house his wife, his sixteen-year-old daughter,
and the fourteen-month-old son whom he had yet to see.

"Shall I get you a cup of tea?" he asked after a while. "I think you must

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attention. Take your time, sit down quietly. If your radio is turned up, turn it
down. You don't need noise, what you need is privacy. Today we will be lis-
tening to chamber music."

Lea turned the volume down, took a chair, and allowed herself to be
seduced by the presenter's voice: "Today we will be going on a journey
through the ether. Our guide is a great master. The body of this world-poku-
man has long ceased to exist but his yeye is amongst us. It lives on in the
works he has left us. In the piece of music I will be playing he is interpreted
by an ensemble led by Arthur Grumiaux. The name of the great spirit is Mo-
zart, Masra Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Baala, sisa, a spirit from the world
we all share! Culture, listeners, is more than civilization. It belongs to us all.
Rejoice, brothers and sisters!" And then the music began.

"Een Geest in de Ether" by Ellen Ombre, from Valse Verlangens. Copyright
2000 by Ellen Ombre. Originally published by De Arbeiderspers. Reprinted
by permission of the author, and translators Arno and Erica Pomerans.



C'dtait carnaval! Quatre grands jours de liesse oil, aux pieds du Roi
Vaval, elles daposeraient tous leurs chagrins de femmes, toutes leurs
miseres de mires. Elles montreraient au monde qu 'elles n 'etaient pas
mortes, pas encore .. Quatrejours a danser, a chanter et a crier la vie.
Porties par la tambour ka, qui resonnait si fort en elles. Remuait les
sangs. Faisait taire lafatigue. Danser Chanter Danser Chanter . Ja-
mais lasses... C'etait carnival!
-a Chantal Lapicque

Gilda avait &t6 6lue Miss Haute-Terre en 1987.

Treize ans djA ... Le souvenir d'une belle ann6e de regne, qu'elle ap-
pelait au secours sit6t que sa vie d'A present faisait monter la colre A ses
16vres, quand elle se prenait en piti6 et se forgait A ravaler ses larmes, ambres
comme une tisane de pawoka vert.

Treize ans si vite passes, avec ses hauts et bas. Beaucoup de bas ...
Deveine, mauvais choix, rendez-vous manques.

Treize ans qui lui avaient donn6 quatre enfants ...

Les deux premiers du meme pere, un negre des Grands-Fonds qui dan-
sait mieux que personnel. Seigneur! comme elle l'avait aim6, Euloge! Ils

MaCombre 9 (2007): 20-29


avaient partage meme case et memes reves pendant pres de cinq ans, jusqu'en
1993. Savant macon, en attendant 1'argent des sacs de ciment et des premiers
parpaings, il construisait la maison de leur vie avec des caresses. Beau par-
leur, il batissait 1'avenir avec des mots vengeurs, r6coltds dans le pass
d'esclavage qui avait eu la chance de ne pas le connaitre. un negre marron, un negre rebelle, un incendiaire ... Sir que j'aurais laisse
mon nom A l'Histoire ...

Gilda 1'ecoutait, buvait ses paroles, persuadee de vivre aupres d'un
heros, d'un batisseur. Las, au bout de la troisieme annee, il commenca a se
lasser de son corps, A chercher d'autres chairs et d'autres oreilles. I1 se fi-
chait pour un rien, reprochait A Gilda d'en vouloir qu'A sa science de macon
et surtout de ne plus croire en lui. toujours quand je te cause.) Elle comptait plus le nombre de fois out elle se
coucha dessous ses injures et dut l'attendre des nuits entieres avec les
petites dans son lit, Sofia sommeillant au creux de ses reins et Lola en-
dormie A son tete, qu'elle ne voulait jamais lecher. Un jour, Euloge fit un
ballot de son linge et disparut, sans un adieu, tete basse et dos raide comme
coule dans le beton.

Davy, son troisieme enfant, 6tait l'oeuvre d'un vieux chabin charmeur,
collectionneur de femmes et pere de trois cents n6grillons. libre!, clamait-il sit6t qu'une de ses conquetes cherchait A le marier. Gilda
ne savait plus comment elle s'6tait retrouvee entire ses mains riches, dessous
ce corps jaune et flasque, ruisselant de sueur. Lorsqu'elle songeait A Fred, le
chabin, elle avait I'impression de sentir A nouveau l'haleine pestilente de
l'homme, d'entendre son souffle rauque. Elle le revoyait de temps a autre, au
hasard de la rue. II allait, pouss6 par le vent, aussi libre qu'une feuille d6ta-
chee de l'arbre, un chien sans maitre, un bout de paper gras... Gilda toumait
la tete.

Le matin ou elle accoucha de Davy, le 24 novembre de l'ann6e 1995,
elle sejura de ne plus se laisser prendre et d'acheter une conduite. Elle se mit
A marcher derriere les chr6tiens de l'Eglise du Septieme Jour. Elle s'agenouilla


avec eux dans les trav6es de la foi. Elle pria la croix et chanta de toute son
ime. Elle supplia le Bon Dieu de veiller sur elle et lui demand Sa lumiere,
Sajoie et l'oubli des frissons de chair. L'oubli des homes...

Un temps, elle se crut sauv6e, d6livrde de ses p6ch6s. Ses prieres lui
avaient fait trouver un travail de femme de service A la cantine de Haute-
Terre. Elle prechait d6jA la bonne parole et jurait A ceux qu'elle tentait de
convertir qu'elle 6tait sortie des t6enbres. Chaque fois qu'elle r6p6tait ces
paroles: , les mots s'imprimaient un peu plus
fond en elle. . Se ferraient dans ses os. ( sortie des t6nebres ...>> Elle se sentait plus solide. Plus digne d'entrer dans le
mystere des psaumes et d'entonner les chceurs avec les fiddles de l'Eglise du
Septieme Jour.

Et puis, malchance, en 98, elle croisa le chemin de Silbert, le pere de
Melody, sa dermire fille. Cent fois, elle recula avant de s'embarquer dans
cette nouvelle histoire. Lui se montrait patient. Alors, elle mesura l'amour
qu'il lui promettait A l'aune de cette patience. Silbert 6tait plombier. II lui
avait t6 recommand6 par un frere de I'Eglise. II se pr6senta sous la pluie, un
jeudi de septembre, avec sa boite A outils et son grand sourire de chr6tien.
Gilda lui montra la salle de bains et le carr6 de douche qu'elle venait d'acheter
en promotion A Pointe-a-Pitre. Il travailla sans mot dire pendant trois heures
et ouvrit la bouche une seule fois, just pour r6clamer une bouteille d'eau
glacee. (a lui faisait tout dr6le a Gilda de se trouver sous son toit en presence
d'un homme. Seule avec la pluie sur les t6les et le bruit que faisait le bougre
derriere la cloison de bois. Elle se revit dans les bras de ses amants d'autrefois.
Images de corps enlac6s, de baisers 6chang6s. Quand elle lui demand son
prix, il rit. Belles dents. Et dit: Je te fais pas payer, ma sceur!> Gilda lui offrit
une limonade. II proposal de revenir r6parer le pied de la table et consolider la
fen6tre. Cette nuit-lA, elle reva d'un male sans visage la couvrant de son corps.

Silbert frappa A sa porte trois jours plus tard. Il rep6ra aussit6t d'autres
meubles a bricoler, autant de pretextes pour revenir. Gilda s'habitua douce-


ment a le voir passer de la cuisine a la chambre, du salon A la cour. Petit A
petit, ils se mirent a causer. Pendant qu'il redressait, colmatait ou reclouait,
elle se tenait derriere lui, debout, adoss6e au chambranle d'une porte. Ils enta-
maient une conversation A chaque fois qu'elle lui versait A boire. Les phrases
de Gilda semblaient toujours revenues, englu6es dans des souvenirs don't elle
6tait peu fire. Lui n'6tait gure plus loquace. II vivait avec sa vieille manman.
N'avait pas d'enfants. Voulait fonder une famille chr6tienne avec une soeur de
l'Eglise. 11 aimait dire qu'il s'en remettait au bon Dieu. < Bon Did sav sa i kafe .. .>

Gilda se mit A l'attendre en regardant sa pendule, a guetter son pas dans
la cour. Quand il vint A bout de ses travaux d'homme, Silbert continue A la
visiter en frere, puis en ami, puis en amant. Lejour ou elle lui annonga qu'elle
attendait son enfant, il songea aussit6t A sa mere. II n'avait pas le droit de faire
honte A la pauvre femme en se mettant en manage avec une n6gresse qui avait
deja connu la vie. C'est ce qu'il avait dit: vie ... Une p6cheresse ... Une femme qui a fait de sa vie un camaval ...

Gilda rajusta son coupon de satin rose sous son bras et serra les dents.
Malgr6 la lune pleine, la rue 6tait sombre, pleine d'ombres. Les femmes qui
rentraient avec elle de la r6p6tition habitaient pour la plupart a l'entr6e de
Busson. Gilda devait traverser seule tout le quarter pour arriver chez elle.
Qu'est-ce qu'elle avait A penser A Silbert et A tous ces hommes-l? C'6tait
camaval! Elle avait trente-trois ans et malgr6 ses quatre grossesses elle se
sentait encore jeune et fraiche, pareille au temps oi elle rayonnait sous sa
couronne de Miss Haute-Terre. C'6tait camaval! Elle 6tait membre du group
les Ka Danse. Trois cents danseurs et musicians! vingt-cinq tambours! deux
saxophones! un trombone! trois calebasses!

Apres la desertion de Silbert, elle avait cru que la terre se serait ouverte
sous ses pieds. La honte l'avait cinquante fois fait appeler la mort. Elle avait
pleur6 la nuit, seule dans sa couche. Des larmes qui la lavaient de sa peine et
lui donnaient la force d'affronter le grand jour. Elle avait port Ml1ody A la


maniere band6e de ces femmes matadors qui pointent le venture et attendent
les quolibets, 1'injure en embuscade au bord des levres. Amere, elle avait
abandonn6 les bancs de bois dur de l'Eglise du Septieme Jour of Silbert priait
son dieu de lui envoyer une vierge.

A la fin de la repetition, Odette avait donn6 le module de la tenue du
Mardi gras. Pour les hommes, une chemise blanche nou6e sur le devant, un
pantalon trois-quarts de satin vert et un grand chapeau de paille. Pour les
danseuses, un genre de jupe bresilienne avec froufrous et volants. Une bras-
siere qui davoilait la moiti6 des seins et mettait le venture A l'air. Les femmes
avaient ri. La plupart n'6taient pas de la premiere jeunesse. Ii y avait pas mal
de grosses, A la chair 6paisse et pliss6e. Des ndgresses de quarante ans passes,
que la vie avait d6jA bien malmen6es. Elles savaient qu'en montrant leur ven-
tre et leurs seins laceres de vergetures elles r6vdlaient en m6me temps leur age
et des morceaux de leur vie. Mais elles s'en fichaient.

C'6tait caraval!

Pendant quatre jours, elles allaient remuer les reins au rythme de la mu-
sique, mouliner des hanches et sauter, suer et s'6tourdir au son des ka frapp6s.

C'6tait carnaval!

Elles avaient le devoir et le droit de danser, de crier, de chanter dans
toutes les rues. Elles seraient les reines du dimanche, du lundi, du Mardi gras
et du mercredi des Cendres. Les belles qu'on admire et jalouse. Celles qui
d6filent et qu'on applaudit. Elles ne seraient pas en penitence sur le trottoir,
pareilles aux badauds qui, dessous leurs parasols, dansaient sur place, petits
pas timor6s, hanches raiders.

C'6tait camaval!

La rue leur appartiendrait pendant quatre jours.

Quatre grands jours de liesse ou, aux pieds du Roi Vaval, elles d6pose-
raient tous leurs chagrins de femmes, toutes leurs miseres de meres.


Quatre jours durant lesquels elles montreraient au monde que, si la vie
les avait mises de c6td, elles n'6taient pas mortes, pas encore ...

Quatre jours a danser, A chanter et a crier la vie.

Quatre jours of elles seraient port6es par le son du tambour ka, qui r6-
sonnait si fort en elles. Remuait les sangs. Faisait taire la fatigue. Danser.
Chanter. Danser. Chanter... Jamais lasses...

C'6tait camaval!

Parfois, etourdies de musique, elles avaient le sentiment que leurs
cceurs ne faisait plus qu'un, 6taient le tambour. La peau tendue du tambour
sur laquelle frappaient les hommes. Elles se sentaient vivantes, tellement vi-
vantes. Alors, elles avaient envie de retenir les heures qui filaient toujours trop
vite. Retenir le soleil qui se couchait trop t6t. Retenir le son du ka qui couvrait
tous les bruits quotidiens de leur vie. Retenir le Roi Vaval qui mourrait le
mercredi des Cendres et ferait d'elles des veuves, des femmes seules montrees
du doigt et jug6es au nombre de leurs enfants sans pere, des abandonees ...

C'6tait carnaval!

Le group Ka Dans6 avait mauvaise reputation; son nom 6tait associe
A Busson, ce quarter de Haute-Terre construit vitement sur une bananeraie,
apres le passage d'un cyclone au nom oublie. Les cases peintes de couleurs
vives avaient et6 livr6es aprbs belle inauguration et couper de ruban trico-
lore. Symboliquement, le maire avait remis les clefs aux heureux propri-
taires. Des discours aux mots choisis s'6taient succ6de. Dignity, misere,
chance, d6sh6rit6s ... Mots qui demeurerent longtemps graves dans 1'esprit
de Gilda. Puis le beau monde 6tait reparti, avec les cameras de television et
les flashes des photographs. Et les cases s'6taient ouvertes sur les pieces
vides, les murs de parpaings nus, la cuisine sans 6vier, la salle de bains sans
lavabo ni douche. Juste un WC.

Gilda emm6nagea avec ses trois premiers enfants. Pendant un temps, ils
se baignerent dehors, au tuyau raccord6 A une arrive d'eau. Et puis, au fur et


A measure, elle acheta le n6cessaire. C'6tait le lot de chacun. Beaucoup de
femmes sans homme. Mais des families aussi, nombreuses. Des 6r6mistes, des
allocataires de ceci ou cela... Des djobeurs de toutes categories. Des ouvriers
de la banane. Des d6brouillards. Des joueurs de dominos. Des petits employs
de la mairie. Des ticherons du dimanche, des p6cheurs occasionnels. Des
jeunes qui touchaient a 1'herbe, volaient a gauche et a droite et s'ennuyaient en
classes. Un assortment de gens qui venaient des quatre coins de Haute-Terre et
s'6taient retrouv6s voisins du jour au lendemain. Busson ne dormait jamais.
De jour comme de nuit, on entendait de la musique, des petarades de mob-
ylettes, des cris m616s, des cocoricos, des abois, des coups de marteau sur les
t6les, un tintamarre de b6tonnieres et de d6broussailleuses ...

Nestor, Glorieux et Patrick, les fondateurs du group, 6taient freres.
Trois m6caniciens bricoleurs. D6cid6s A changer l'image de Busson, ils
avaient d'abord commence A se r6unir dans un hangar d6saffect6 oi se faisait
autrefois le tri des bananes. Tous les vendredis soir, la bande A Nestor frappait
le tambour. Au debut, deux, trois grincheux grognerent, disant qu'il y avait
assez de d6sordre a Busson et que ces tambouye-l fatiguaient le monde. Mais
d'autres prirent i'habitude de les 6couter a l'entree du hangar, de danser et
chanter avec eux. Lorsque Glorieux parla de cr6er un group de camaval A
Busson, vingt-cinq negres et n6gresses se porterent volontaires etjurerent de
ramener du monde. Gilda promit de venir voir, just voir, prendre la tempera-
ture, se rendre compete de visu. Melody avait A peine trois mois.

C'6tait la deuxieme fois que Gilda allait courir les rues avec les gens de
Ka Dans6. Is 6taient devenus sa famille. Trois cents personnel! Le quarter
n'6tait pas entr6 en saintet6 ... Il y avait toujours des cris, des p6tarades de
mobylettes, des trafics d'herbe, des vols et des s6renades de jurons ... Mais
camaval approchait. On sentait que les querelles s'6tiolaient. Les vols se rar6-
fiaient. Ils n'avaient plus que 9a en t&te, les gens de quarter Busson: camaval!
Celui qui venait devait etre le plus beau! Carnaval de l'an 2000!

Fallait tout mettre en oeuvre pour gagner A l'l6ection du meilleur


group. Eux, les pauvres bougres, les femmes seules et les enfants sans pere
de quarter Busson, ils devaient montrer au monde qu'ils 6taient les meilleurs.
Meilleurs danseurs. Meilleurs musicians. Meilleurs chanteurs. Nestor avait
jur6 que c'6tait possible. Et aux demi&res r6p6titions, chacun y avait cru. Le
son des tambours s'l6evait dans le hangar comme une musique sacr6e d6di6e
a Dieu. Les danseuses 6taient belles, m6me les vieilles et les grosses.

Gilda avait plant un pied de fruit a pain dans sa cour. La lune pleine
semblait pendue dans ses branches. Voila ce qui arrive aux femmes qui ont
d6ji connu la vie, se dit-elle en songeant A Silbert. Elles s'accrochent A un
negre, boivent ses paroles et tombent enceintes.

Madly, la petite voisine qui lui gardait les enfants, ronflait devant la t6el
allum6e, entire Davy et Sofia. Lola avait une fois de plus pr6f6r6 le lit de sa
mere au sien. Ml6ody dormait dans son berceau. Gilda porta Lola dans sa
chambre et r6veilla Madly. Encore un peu de temps et M61ody irait A l'6cole
avec son frere et ses deux sceurs. Encore un peu de patience et la figure des
hommes qui hantaient sa vie fmirait de la poursuivre. Demain, je couds ma
tenue de Br6silienne, se promit Gilda avant de s'endormir.

Ka Dans6 avait d6file tous les dimanches depuis le d6but de l'ann6e 2000.
A chaque fois, ils avaient soulev6 les foules. Sur les trottoirs, les gens dansaient
et chantaient. On les hl6ait comme des amis. On les applaudissait. Ils faisaient
rire les enfants et sourire les grands-meres. Le soir, en regagnant quarter Bus-
son, ils 6taient fiers, pareils a des soldats qui viennent de lib6rer une ville. Eux,
les n6gres de quarter Busson, ils semaient lajoie ... Ils se sentaient beaux et
bons ... Ils avaient le sentiment que le monde entier les aimait. Qu'ils 6taient
des chanceux, des bienheureux, des anges tombs du ciel...

Le Dimanche gras, les femmes et les enfants d6boulkrent en grands
vents devant les hommes d6chain6s sur leurs tambours.

Le lundi, en marriages burlesques, ils convoqu&rent l'arc-en-ciel et re-
pousserent la pluie annonc6e.


Puis vint le Mardi gras ...

Marie-Denise avait ramen6 de Pointe-A-Pitre une vingtaine de bas r6-
sille qu'un Syrien vendait pour rien sur un trottoir de la rue Fr6bault. < 9a, on fera vraiment Brdsiliennes!> Les femmes les plus minces r6ussirent A
enfiler les bas, les autres dessinerent le quadrillage A m6me la peau, au crayon
feutre noir. Maquill6es comme des reines, elles n'avaient plus rien A voir avec
les pauvres bougresses d61aiss6es que les gens du bourg de Haute-Terre regar-
daient de travers.

Gilda avait plusieurs fois essay son costume devant ses enfants. Mais
le Mardi gras ... lorsqu'elle apparut dans sa tenue complete sa brassiere
rose, sajupe A volants et froufrous, ses colliers et ses bracelets de chrysocale,
ses bas r6sille noirs, retenus aux cuisses par des 61astiques, sa coiffure de
fruits en plastique sur la t6te -, Sofia et Lola l'applaudirent.

Elle avait 6t6 6lue Miss Haute-Terre en 1987.

Treize ans d6j ...

On 6tait en l'an 2000. Et tout pouvait recommencer. Le camaval chantait
l'esp6rance. Elle avait quatre enfants. Mais elle n'etait pas morte en couches.
Pas morte parce qu'elle avait connu la vie ... Pas morte parce qu'elle avait
connu des homes ... Pas morte de honte a cause de sa vie-camaval...

La vie...

Le Mardi gras, elle les retrouva. Tous les trois. Badauds sur le trottoir.
Les trois pares de ses enfants. Plants comme les panneaux indicateurs de son
existence sur terre. Ici et 1l, un dans la rue Schaelcher, I'autre dans la rue Vat-
able, le troisieme dans la rue Delgres.

Euloge avait blanchi aux tempes. Il ne parut pas la reconnaitre ou fit sem-
blant. Et elle dansa pour lui qui n'avait pas voulu d'elle. Unjeune enfant sur les
6paules, il regardait le d6fil6 d'un air d6sabus6. Un moment, leurs regards se
croiserent sans souffrance. Et puis elle sourit A Euloge, le beau rebelle, le negre
marron, le grand diseur qui n'avaitjamais rien pu bitir de ses mains ...


Fred 6tait devenu plus 6tique encore. On l'efit dit rong6 de l'interieur
par une maladie du sang. Son visage 6tait tout en os et en creux. Ses yeux de
chabin avaient vir6 au jaune. II faisait peine A voir. Chemise us6e. Casquette
Coca-Cola crasseuse. M6got au bord des lkvres. Elle le salua de la main. Et il
r6pondit A son geste, le front triste, comme s'il implorait son pardon. Gilda
dansa pour lui.

Silbert n'avait pas encore trouv6 la soeur d'Eglise de son coeur, 9a se
voyait A sa d6gaine de noy6. Sa mere 6tait morte dans les premiers jours de
l'ann6e. I1 semblait flotter dans la foule, port Ia, par une force sup6rieure,
just la pour regarder passer Gilda dans sa tenue de Br6silienne ... Juste IA
pour voir d6bouler la vie-carnaval...

Le mercredi des Cendres, Gilda ne rev6tit pas son costume noir et blanc.
Elle ne porta pas le deuil de Vaval. Elle n'6tait pas veuve. Elle n'6tait pas
triste. Elle enfila ses bas r6sille, sa brassiere 6chancr6e, sajupe a dentelles et
froufrous. Elle posa sur sa tate sa coiffure de fruits en plastique. Et toute la
nuit, elle dansa pour la vie qui lui avait 6t6 donn6e, pour demain qui venait.

"La vie-camaval" par Gisele Pineau. Droits d'auteur 2001 par Gisele
Pineau. Premiere publication en Guadeloupe: Temps Incertains. Ed. Marie
Abraham et Daniel Maragnes. Paris: Editions Autrement, 2001. 149-157.
Reproduction avec permission de I'auteur.



I first met Edwidge Danticat in 2004. She had visited Trinidad to give a read-
ing at a conference that I was co-ordinating with my colleague Martin Munro.
Having read, taught, and written about Danticat, I was overjoyed to think that
she would actually attend. Danticat had already been a finalist for the National
Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Critics Circle
Award, and was an American Book Award winner, as well as the winner of
the first Story Prize. These credentials were impressive for any writer, far less
for one born in 1969. Meeting her for the first time, I was immediately struck
by how incredibly young she looked; but there was also in this pretty, inno-
cent face a calm, wise, old-world spirit that seemed to explain how she had
written several probing works that resonate with a wide audience, including
Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), Krik? Krak! (1995), The Farmimg of Bones
(1998), and The Dew Breaker (2004). Danticat has also written two memoirs:
After the Dance (2002); and Brother, I'm Dying (2007) in which she recounts
the story of the deaths of her uncle Joseph and her father, Mira. Raised by her
uncle and aunt until the age of twelve, Danticat left Haiti with her brother Bob
in 1981 to join her parents and two other brothers in the United States. This
memoir is a remarkable work and is receiving much critical acclaim. Pub-
lisher's Weekly has described Brother, I'm Dying as an "elegant" work that is

MaComere 9 (2007): 30-41


"poignant and never sentimental" (Rev. 156) while Kirkus Reviews finds it
"exceptionally gripping" (Rev. 644).
After high school, Danticat attended Barnard College, where she ma-
jored in French literature. She then went on to receive a master of fine arts in
creative writing from Brown University. Danticat has made a home in Miami
with her husband Fedo and daughter Mira, named after Danticat's father.
Although she has spent much of her life in the US, in many ways Danticat has
never really left Haiti. Haiti has always been part of her life and her life's
work. However, as Jess Row so aptly stated in his perceptive review of
Brother I'm Dying, there is in this memoir-and I would argue in Danticat's
work as a whole-"a mixture of homesickness and homelessness" (10). In
Danticat's work, home is a moving space.
Apart from the great admiration I have for Danticat as a writer, what
remains astonishing to me is the manner in which she has maintained a poised,
clairvoyant posture that may have been touched by sadness but never bitter-
ness, and has managed to convey wisdom that seems way beyond her years.

Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw: Earlier this year, 2007, I went to Haiti for the
first time. Writers, artists, and scholars were set up in a camp at the incredibly
restored location of the Citadel Henry Christophe, the Citadel Laferriere. This
fort at the top of a mountain evoked mixed emotions of pride and shame for
many of the Haitian writers. Do these ruins, these architectural reminders of
the past, affect you?

Edwidge Danticat: I am sorry I missed that gathering. I have a two-and-a-
half year old and it makes travelling a bit harder for me at this stage. I am
ambivalent about architectural reminders. On the one hand, I think they are
phenomenal, just amazing. They are true manifestations of our genius and
ingenuity. The Citadel certainly is. It reminds us that we could have built
the pyramids. (Of course, thousands died building the Citadel, and their
labour is not what we celebrate when we see it.) It is a wonderful place, as


are all of these remaining monuments in Haiti. The Neg Mawon (I guess
you would say the Maroon) across from the National Palace in Port-au-
Prince is also wonderful.
These things are great to have. But, on the other hand, they also evoke
sadness for me, again for the deaths and for the cruelty they represent-both
for what they show and how they were built. Sometimes when walking in a
field of corn in rural Haiti you will come across a stone wall, a pillar, or the
remains of a fort, and someone will tell you that it was from the time of the
colony (du temps de la colonie). These structures, too, I think, are as valuable
a monument as the others. In other places, there would probably be a plaque
and efforts to preserve them, but we are not as diligent at preserving things in
Haiti. We can't afford it financially, so a lot of these physical reminders of the
past are disappearing.
When I was writing my book After the Dance, I visited the location of the
house where Simon Bolivar stayed. There is a plaque there, but the building is
private property, a dress shop. When I visited the Massacre River on the Haitian
and Dominican border where thousands of people died, there was no plaque
there. In Jacmel, I saw an old steam engine, one of the first in the world, rotting
in an open field. So each time I see an honoured reminder of the past, I think of
all the others that are neglected and disappearing. But thank goodness, we have
some that will remain the focus of people's attention, and the Citadel Laferri&re,
is a great one. I am very happy that it's being used for gatherings of writers and
artists; it's a way to link the present with the past.

E. W-H.: Do you think that ruins influence a people's sense of history?

E.D.: I do. We learn history in words and then all of a sudden we have phys-
ical proof that what we heard or read really happened. Ruins make the past
seem more real, of course. But in the case of Haiti where so few "ruins" are
preserved or so little of the physical past is sought or excavated archeologi-
cally, we have to look for other ways to strengthen our sense of history.


E. W-H.: Much of your writing is about Haiti rather than the US, even when
the protagonists are located in the latter. Returning seems to be an important
trope in your work. For me, it falls somewhere in between a C6sairian sense
of rootedness and the intransient position that Dany Laferriere occupies. Can
you talk about the notion of home and the ways in which you return to it in
your fiction?

E. D.: My writing is an exploration of my own desire to find a true home, a
place for myself in the world, I suppose. It's not a sad or tragic exploration,
just a complicated one. I sometimes feel like I belong in the US, until some-
one calls me (in sections for anonymous comments in newspapers, for ex-
ample) a monkey or a nigger and tells me to go back in the ocean and drown
myself. There is such a streak of hostility towards dissent in the US these
days. A lot of people think you should be happy to just be here and shut up no
matter what happens to you. Of course there are things that have happened for
me here that would not have been possible for me in Haiti, but they have come
only because of the extraordinary sacrifices from my family. All that figures
in what I am trying to understand through my writing. Sometimes I feel too
as if I belong fully to Haiti, and then something happens and I'm afraid to go
to the country or take my child there. Then I ask myself if someone can ever
really be afraid of their country. I must be losing that part of me. So many
people live those realities with me and we can always share those experiences
in intimate conversation. I also try to live them in my writing. These things, I
believe, are all part of being Haitian and American, or returning, or having
never left. I definitely have a sense of rootedness. This is due partly to my
personality. I don't think I am truly happy anywhere. I always want to keep
moving. Until recently, I never bought heavy furniture so that I could keep
moving. (Now I realize you can move with heavy furniture.) I have what
Haitians called pye poudre, powdered feet. I get restless in one place. I also
feel intransient, but all that is good. It's good for the writer and I believe also
good for the soul.


E. W-H.: In your first memoir, After the Dance, you talk about being both an
insider and outsider to the Jacmel carnival celebrations, of wanting to belong
but being aware of the necessary distance the writer often has to take. How
does one negotiate this dual position of participant and observer? How do we
look at home from a distance even when we are there?

E. D.: This has always been my reality. I am not only speaking in terms of
nationality and larger identities. Even in my own family, I sometimes felt like
a bit of an outsider because I was so extremely shy. So I have always looked
at things from that perspective, always asked myself if I really deserve to
participate. After the Dance was just one aspect of that. A writer is sometimes
a participant (in life) and sometimes an observer of lives. In a memoir you are
both. I can look at most things from a distance even when they are happening
to me because that's how I have always looked at the world and also because
on some level that's what all writers do.

E. W-H.: One of the many remarkable aspects of The Dew Breaker is the
manner in which the father figure is so much a part of the personal and the
political. Ka is betrayed by her father on a personal level and the country is
betrayed by a father, "Papa Doc," on the political. What does the father figure
represent to you in this novel?

E. D.: It's funny you asked that. I saw that whole book as an exploration of
fatherhood. The biggest notion is that of "fatherland" versus "motherland." A
dictatorial culture is, of course, patriarchal. So the language that dictators, the
Duvaliers and Trujillos of Hispaniola for example, use to refer to the nation
is often cloaked in the language of fatherhood. Duvalier and Trujillo both
called themselves Benefactors of the Fatherland and all kinds of things like
that. I also wanted to explore the idea that so many men died as a result of the
Duvaliers. One character in the book says that he was one of thousands of
fatherless boys. It was as if all those fathers were being killed so that there
could only be one father left, the ultimate one, Duvalier. And then there is the


personal relationship with a father, which is, of course, more nuanced and
more complicated. For immigrant kids, father often has to be redefined-out-
side an original community that tells you when you mess up, "Hey, this is
your father. You're supposed to act this or that way with him." You're sud-
denly in the US and your father does not fit in. He does not fit in because this
is not his context. He's trying to be a father in the old way and you want him
to be an American father like the ones you see on television, like Bill Cosby
of The Cosby Show, in my time. You know that's not going to happen. So pity
poor Ka who, on top of all this, has a torturer for a father.

E. W-H.: I'd like to talk now a little about your latest work, Brother, I'm
Dying. The reviews have been excellent, and it is truly a compelling and cou-
rageous work. To begin with I'm interested in how you were able to balance
fact, fiction, and what you have called "borrowed recollection."

E. D.: There is no fiction in this book. It's all bare boned. Everything in there
comes from a source-a relative or a document or my own recollection. I
needed to do that to make sure the story came forth in a precise way. What I
mean when I talk about "borrowed recollection" are those things that I heard
from others. I was able to recreate them in a more detailed way because I knew
the places and the people, and could sketch them out after I was told what hap-
pened. I could visualize things and could help the reader do the same.

E. W-H.: In the beginning of Brother, I'm Dying, there is a wonderful section
about letters being sent to your father but also being read by your Uncle Jo-
seph. It made me wonder whether this book is not like one of those letters
being "sent" to both men.

E. D.: You know, you're so right. It might be. When you lose elders in your
family, you're supposed to be more of a grown up, but when my uncle then
my father died, I would lie in bed sometimes thinking that all I wanted to do
was be a little girl. I wanted someone else to take care of things. When I was


writing the book, I felt like they were with me, working with me. It was like
a collaboration. But you're right; it's also a love letter to both of them.

E. W-H.: Although there is so much death in the work, it is not morbid. It is
terrifying at times, often very touching, always engaging, but not morbid. Did
you want to avoid a morose view of death?

E. D.: Because I saw so much death growing up-my uncle presided over a
lot of funerals as minister of his church-I became less afraid of death. Also,
the way the dead were treated was so holistic. There was a loving transition
with no sense of emergency. The bodies were bathed before they were sent to
the morgue. Sometimes, in the countryside, the body was in the house during
the wake. It was not morbid or scary, unless there was some tragic accident
or shooting and there was blood.

E. W-H.: I sense a great feeling of responsibility in this work to your father
and uncle but also to all those silenced voices at Krome. Am I right? Do you
feel this sense of responsibility to the Haitian community?

E. D.: I feel a sense of responsibility for people who could die like my uncle.
I feel like I need to make a fuss for them. In one of the forms that were filled
out about my uncle-it was called a "Discretionary Authority Form"-one of
the questions was "Media or Congressional interest?" meaning is there media
or congressional interest in this person? I want the answer to be "yes" in every
case. A few days ago I testified before a subcommittee investigating medical
care for detainees in a hearing on Capitol Hill before members of US Con-
gress. The answer to that question for my uncle at the time he came seeking
asylum was "no." Now it would be "yes." I want it to be "yes" for everyone
so that at least they might be treated better than my uncle was.

E. W-H.: In the chapter titled "Hell," your uncle faces the horrors of betrayal
from his own people and the terrifying possibility of his own death. The ten-


sion of the scene is rendered with perfect pacing, amazing restraint, never
falling into the traps of over-dramatization. How were you able to distance
yourself from these events?

E. D.: I wasn't there, for one, so I had to rely on the borrowed recollection we
talked about earlier. There were press reports written about that day so I used
some of those. My Aunt Zi and my cousin Maxo told me a lot of things, too.
I really wanted to know what had happened to my uncle. That part of the book
is a story I am telling myself.

E. W-H.: You use biblical references in the book, beginning part 1 with a
quotation from Genesis: "This is how you can show your love to me: Every-
where we go, say of me, 'He is my brother"' (New International Version
20.13). How important are religion and faith in the book?

E. D.: Faith and religion are very important because both my uncle and father
were very religious men. I had a feeling that this would be a book they'd want
their church friends to read. Also, the verses I used were ones my father often
quoted to me when I had some minor conflicts with my own brothers.

E. W-H.: Granme Melina relates some wonderful stories in the memoir. The
grandparent as storyteller has a long tradition in Caribbean literature. This
voice seems to play an important role, adding yet another layer to our inter-
pretation of the stories told to us. How important is this voice in your work?

E. D.: I was almost afraid to put in some of Granme Melina's stories. I had
just been to a presentation by Zadie Smith where she cited as a cliche the fact
that grandmothers told stories to writers. In my case it was true. Clich6s are
often true. I would not be a writer today if I had not been told stories. I reach
for those stories when I am sad, and I did when my uncle and father died. This
voice is the primal voice of my work. It showed me how to tell stories.


E. W-H.: In writing about the horrors of Krome, you stick to the recorded
facts of your uncle's experience, thereby giving readers an unobstructed view
of the injustice, the inhumanity, and the simple lack of kindness there. Do you
hope that the story will help those still on the inside or those about to face a
Krome detention? Can literature effect change?

E. D.: I hope it will help those who make those decisions realize the conse-
quences. I know they were doing their job. Now I am doing my job. I hope
they see more than an alien with a number when someone appears before
them. I hope they see a man, a woman, a father, a mother, a whole person.

E. W-H.: Your Uncle Joseph had very ambivalent feelings about the US that
stemmed from the treatment Haitians endured during the nineteen years of US
occupation. You point to the tragic irony of his death saying that "soon he
would be the dead prisoner of the same government that had been occupying
his country when he was born" (250). Does the treatment he received affect
your own feelings about the US?

E. D.: It affects my feelings about the people who mistreated him, but not my
feelings about all of the US. As I said before, the US has afforded me some
extraordinary opportunities. At the same time, we have sacrificed a great deal
for it. My uncle had American friends who helped save his life when he was
stricken with cancer. Yet he had seen the cruelty of US marines as a child.
Like true citizens of all countries, we have to be able to speak up when things
are bad. People have asked me how I reconcile living here after what hap-
pened to my uncle. I ask them how they reconcile living in the US after what
happened at Abu Ghraib, where people were tortured on tape. We just have to
keep speaking out and hope for change.

E. W-H.: After burying his brother your father says, "If our country were
given a chance and allowed to be a country like any other, none of us would
live or die here" (251). What does "to be a country like any other" mean?


E. D.: It means (I am interpreting here) if we were allowed to choose our
leaders and raise our pigs without extermination; if we had not been occupied
repeatedly; if our country wasn't continually interfered with and then blamed
for its own failure. I think he was talking about true sovereignty, like my
grandfather, who fought against the US occupation from 1915 to 1934.

E. W-H.: Do you share your father's sentiments about not living or dying in
the US should Haiti become "a country like any other"?

E. D.: I agree with him, yes. He was saying that if Haiti had not had all these
problems, we'd be home. I agree with that.

E. W-H.: Fiction is perhaps always a mixture of autobiography and imagina-
tion. Do you think this memoir will affect the reading of your earlier works?
Do memoirs carry any risks for a writer?

E. D.: I can't worry about that. I think people see in this book some of the
sources for my fiction, and that's okay. The only risk I can think of is that
every time I meet someone who has read the book they feel like they really
know me. This book is only a very small portion of my uncle's and my fa-
thers' lives, as well as mine.

E. W-H.: You constantly evoke the feelings of fear and fright: Marie Mi-
cheline "dies of fright" and your uncle must ironically undergo a "Credible
Fear Interview." There is also the fear of death. Is the work also an attempt to
look at fear and to try and understand the nature of it?

E. D.: I hadn't even noticed the connections between those two. I probably
would have unsuccessfully tried to make more of it if I had. My husband says
that I am a very fearful person, kapon, so I suppose I am always looking for
manifestations of fear.


E. W-H.: The scene with your mother preparing a bowl of rice for your father
is one of the most quietly moving scenes in the book where such an ordinary
act becomes an extraordinary show of love. We have spoken about death and
fear, but could you now speak to these acts of kindness and courage?

E. D.: Just as my uncle's death taught me a bit more about fear, my father's
taught me to look at small moments as precious. The cooking and eating of
this bowl of rice remains one of my most treasured memories of my father.
This is not in the book, but before I left New York with my daughter, he called
me to his room and said, "Listen, when you come back here, you might be
able to see me, but I won't see you. But be brave. You're nursing a baby. Mete
fanm sou ou. Hold on to yourself." Usually I would have said, "Don't say
that." But I simply said, "Okay, papa." He gave me his hymn book from
church, and I said to him that I would give it back when he got better. My
mother told me he never ate anything again after that bowl of rice. When
you're dying, I realize, you're not so hungry or thirsty anymore. That was his
last supper.

E. W-H.: The book ends with a strong sense of family and of hope, particu-
larly with your own daughter, Mira, being named after your father. What
feelings did you take away with you after writing this book?

E.D.: That family is essential. I used to have friends I thought were like fam-
ily members and then you find out they smile to your face and cut you up
behind your back, that kind of thing. In a family setting, if that happens, you
simply say, listen I love you. Stop that. It's messy sometimes, but the love is
always there. My father said it often and I cite from the book this verse from
the Book of Proverbs: "A friend is for all times, but a brother is for adversity"
(104; Proverbs 17.17). Well, writing this book, I learned that a family is for
all times, but most importantly for adversity.

E. W-H.: Thank you, Edwidge Danticat.



The Cosby Show. NBC; Carsey-Wemer; Bill Cosby. 1984-1992. Television.
Danticat, Edwidge. After the Dance: A Walk through Carnival in Jacmel,
Haiti. New York: Crown, 2002.
--. Brother, I'm Dying. New York: Knopf, 2007.
--. The Dew Breaker. New York: Knopf, 2004.
The Holy Bible: New International Version. Colorado Springs: Biblica, 1984.
Rev. of Brother, I'm Dying, by Edwidge Danticat. Kirkus Reviews 1 July
2007: 644.
Rev. of Brother, I'm Dying, by Edwidge Danticat. Publishers Weekly 16 July
2007: 155-156.
Row, Jess. "Haitian Fathers." Rev. of Brother I'm Dying, by Edwidge
Danticat. New York Times 9 September 2007: 10.


The Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS)
Founded in 1995, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Hyacinth M. Simpson, Ryerson University

Manuscript Review and Advisory Editors
Carole Boyce Davies, Florida International University; Sarah Casteel, Carleton University;
Merle Collins, University ofMaryland; Andrea Davis, York University; Denise deCaires Narain,
University of Sussex; Pascale De Souza, Johns Hopkins University; Alison Donnell, University
of Reading; Keith Ellis, University of Toronto; Evelyn Hawthorne, Howard University; Nalo
Hopkinson, Writer; Kathleen Kellett-Betsos, Ryerson University; Anne Malena, University of
Alberta; Katherine McKittrick, Queen s University; Heather Milne, University of Winnipeg; Pam
Mordecai, Writer; Evelyn O'Callaghan, University ofthe West Indies (Cave Hill); Leslie Sanders,
York University; Elaine Savory, New School University; Olive Senior, Writer; Heather Smyth,
University of Waterloo; Neil ten Kortenaar, University of Toronto; Alissa Trotz, University of

Editorial Intern
Denise I-Fen Chung Guerrero, Ryerson University

Publication of MaCombre is supported by the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Arts, the Office
of the Vice President (Research & Innovation), the Department of English, and the Caribbean
Research Centre at Ryerson University.




The growing interest in autobiographical writing is related to late twentieth-
century debates over the subject and representation. Travel writing, tradition-
ally seen as a complementary historical source, has been included in the body
of writings "about the self." These "personal narratives," together with "for-
mal" autobiographies, have attained full standing as objects of reflection for
theory and criticism, moving from the periphery to the centre of the literary
Travel writing is produced out of the relationship between oneself and
the Other, between the known and the unknown; in it, the subjective gaze ap-
propriates the factual and constructs a new world by means of a selective
process of choosing and separating in which the means of displacement, the
temporality of the form, and the distance between the experience itself and
the act of writing and recollecting serve, as Michel de Certeau claims, to
"transpose the plurality of the travels to the unicity of the center of produc-
tion" (214). The features of this type of writing are twofold. First, travel writ-
ing deals with matters not traditionally included in other narratives, such as
the description of customs, diet, dress, public buildings and dwellings, family

MaComere 9 (2007): 42-52


relationships, the state of local communications, holidays, songs, and dances.
Second, the text's enunciating subject, belonging to a specific network of
information, tells the story through the individual's biased vision of his new
experience. Thus the travel account is not simply a naive or innocent testi-
mony but the reconstructionn of a real-life experience and of the encounter
with another world.
As well, travel writing is typified by its formal diversity. It can be ar-
ticulated in the narrative syntax of diaries, memoirs, or letters, or presented as
a travelogue. The motives for writing the text are also varied: a rite of passage,
an ethnological study, an expedition for territorial or scientific conquest, the
search for pleasure or to recover lost health, or a yearning for or fear of an
encounter with the unknown. Its flexibility allows a mixture of local anec-
dotes and legends, novelettes and poems, prose and poetry, but, depending on
the position of the enunciating subject, this formal fragmentation may con-
form to generic conventions or construct a discursive resistance to them.
Travel narratives played a decisive part in the articulation of modem
discourse by Europeans about the Other and about themselves. By subjugat-
ing and codifying the Other, the European sensibility was able to define itself
as universal-that which the Other was not. As such, travel narratives sup-
ported vast colonizing projects whose target peoples and cultures varied with
the passing of time as well as with the changes in objects of desire for Euro-
peans. If attention once focused on the Holy Land and the Orient, lands on
the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and the African continent were also the
desideratum of these exploits. Some of these travellers of the seventeenth
century or geographers of the eighteenth were actually information agents
who collected and mapped data that were then used by a colonial power or by
trade strategists for their own benefit.
The bibliography for this paper shows the expansion and breadth of the
critical reception of travel writing. Approaches range from naive descriptive
analysis of books written by travellers, to the books' use as historical docu-
ments, their reading within the area of mentalities, interest in the literary tone
and style, inclusion in networks of cultural meanings and the axes of power,


and the relationship between dominant and emerging discursive practices.'
Travel writing is undertaken today from a perspective that combines an
ethnographic approach, cultural anthropology, geography, and literary criti-
cism. These perspectives, not unlike those included in cultural studies (see
Kaplan), consider race, class, and gender to be factors that act on subjects in
their construction of the worlds visited and then (re)written. Topics on Other-
ness find their niche in travel writing. As Linda McDowell concludes, discus-
sion of travel writing has mobilized the very concept of difference to play a
fundamental part against the phallocentrism and universalism of Western dis-
course (315).


Individual editions or travel collections have shown a preference for men. The
great tradition of traveller-discoverers (Marco Polo, Columbus), traveller-
chroniclers (Joinville, Diaz del Castillo), and traveller-scientists (La Conda-
mine, Humboldt) does not include women. "Obviously" excluded from feats
such as discovery and conquest, religious crusades and naturalist expeditions,
women had few possibilities for participating in and leaving testimony of
such enterprises. As Virginia Woolf explained, women's novels dealt with
domestic space because in the nineteenth century that was their main, and
perhaps only, sphere of activity; the same conditions limited the possibilities
for women's travel writing.
In that century, however, with the development of sea routes and rail-
ways, international travel and interest in travel increased. Technical changes
influenced women's chances for getting to know new lands, although, for
"natural" reasons, they would have fewer opportunities than men. In spite of
social and economic restrictions, women headed out toward the unknown,
sometimes accompanying their husbands or fathers and occasionally for rea-
sons of their own health, pleasure, or work. As James Clifford has stated,
women also have their own history of labour migration, pilgrimage, explora-
tion, tourism, and even military transfer-a history at the same time linked to,
and different from, that of men (6). Their travel experiences have been re-


corded, not in the official history of treaties or government documents, but in
the form of diaries and letters.
The recent increase in the publishing of collections of women's travel
narratives2 bears witness to the concentration of women travellers' texts belong-
ing to the nineteenth century. Although cases might arise of texts about very
early travel experience related to Spain's colonizing enterprise in America-
Isabel of Guevara's sixteenth-century epistle is included by M6nica Szurmuk
in her collection Mujeres en viaje [Women Travelling] (2000)-these are iso-
lated fragments, unlike the substantial body of nineteenth-century output. This
relation between the lack and the abundance of this type of text illustrates the
gradual process of the entry of women's writing into public space.
For this reason, the attention of publishers and academic criticism today
cannot be separated from the increasing imprint of theoretical feminist studies
in practically all fields of knowledge. Indeed, the study of women's travel
books falls in line with the related inquiry into women's writing and the fem-
inine literary tradition. In fact, the marks of that textuality cannot be separated
from the stages in the articulation of a feminine discourse defined in relation
to its dialogue with authority, power, and canon. Sara Mills considers that
accepting these texts as autobiographical means denying women the status of
creators of cultural artifacts (12). One could say that autobiography as a form
of discourse is also a cultural artifact and that from this perspective, and not
from being primarily biographical, travel books-written by both men and
women-are also writings of the self.
The public and the private are spatial categories and thus characteristic
of the analysis of travel literature, the literature of geographical and cultural
spaces. The transition from the sphere of oneself to that of the Other, from
selfdom to alterity, imposes certain demands on this type of writing, in par-
ticular when writing about what is public, given that the space to be covered
belongs, basically, within that sphere. Thus, women who travel participate in
a spatial dimension of what is considered public; when they write their texts
with the purpose of later publishing them, that dimension increases since by
writing women gain access to a form of social authority.


The interrelationship between the public and the private becomes per-
haps more evident in the texts of women travellers because the requirements
of that discursive form force them to participate in open spaces as enunciating
subjects. Writing in this case has as its standard topic, as its formal possibility,
public space. Incursions into the world of family or everyday life, of intimacy,
will involve a relationship with the space of the public, and it is not coinci-
dental that in the texts of women travellers these topics occupy a more central
position than in those by men.


More than twenty years ago, when I was publishing the collection Viajeras al
Caribe [Women Travellers to the Caribbean] (1983) in Havana, my interest
in travel writing as testimony to a state of affairs did not go beyond descrip-
tive discourse. Viajeras al Caribe was a presentation to the Spanish-speaking
reader of the textual outputdiaries, letters, memoirs, travel books-by Eu-
ropean and American women travelling to island or continental territories in
the Caribbean basin in the nineteenth century. At the same time, it was a read-
ing of the marked interest of the women travellers for "feminine" topics:
clothing, child-rearing, and other women. Last but not least, it was a discov-
ery of the "naivetd" of some of these women, who did not suspect the most
profound meaning of their writings.
Such is the case of the wife of the English governor in Jamaica, Maria
Nugent. In her book, A Journal ofa Voyage to, and Residence in the Island of
Jamaica, from 1801 to 1805 and of Subsequent Events in England from 1805
to 1811 (1839), Lady Nugent places herself in the position of the colonial
rulers, giving a thorough account of life in Jamaica. In writing a personal
diary, she accomplishes the role of a historian, dealing with the public as well
as with the private sphere. Her compassionate attitude vis-a-vis her domestic
slaves suggests an explicit position regarding the elimination of the slave
trade. Her well-detailed journal of life in Jamaica during those first years of
the nineteenth century turned out to be a primary historical source.
At the same time, her journal is the space where Lady Nugent echoes


her husband's as well as her own personal way of enduring life on the island.
She builds a space of knowledge and, as do other women who participate in
colonial or slave-holding enterprises, she shows gender awareness. Women,
always on the periphery even when they belong to the elite, compare them-
selves not only to other women of their class and race, but also to black, in-
digenous, or mixed-race women. This gender awareness opens the way for a
bond between them to be born.
Reading women travellers' books on the Caribbean made me consider
the possibility of a certain typology of women's travel writing in the nine-
teenth century. One factor that stands out is that the similarity of textual mod-
els belonging to different contexts confirms the transnational and transcultural
currency of the concept of what a woman "should be." Consequently, a theo-
retically informed reading must address the problems oftextuality, discursive
strategies, and enunciating positions and recurrent topoi in their connection
with the locus from which it is enunciated. What is fundamental in travel
writing is not so much the lives of the women in themselves as the construc-
tion of meanings of sexual difference.
In Julia Howe's A Trip to Cuba (1860), the American traveller shows
her interest in women's participation in the public sphere. When the Cuban
female aristocracy attends mass at the cathedral on Sunday morning in the
city of Matanzas, Howe gives details of the way in which the women are
dressed and how they arrived carrying their prayer books and followed by
slaves of either sex bearing their mistresses' prayer-carpets. Her particular
reaction to the matanceras' outfits is surprise that perhaps these women may
not have undressed after the ball of the night before. She observes their exces-
sive attire; all that powder and puffery can do for them has been done.
In this account of her 1859 journey to Cuba, Howe reflects the need to
express new and different experiences, giving the reader a highly personal
view of a particular time and place. She is struck by that which is strange and
foreign, mainly women's toilets and in particular, those of the sehoritas, who
are attired mostly in muslins, with bare necks and arms and their heads
dressed with flowers or jewelled pins.


The evaluation of this open space, as in Howe's text, involves descrip-
tion as the form of expression, another requirement of travel writing. The
meticulous detail of women travellers' texts is an impulse determined by
women's position with respect to the legitimacy of knowledge and the prob-
lem of truth. The accounts in those texts with an abundance of details about
the physical aspect of buildings or people, both in their external features and
in their forms of behaviour or styles of dress, show an effort to capture reality
and take a position with respect to knowledge. Rather than the topics typical
of the rhetoric of the travel book-entering a port, arriving at the train sta-
tion-women's travel writing incorporates a wide range of matter, including
systems of exploitation, laws, education, and politics. Women travellers refer
to latitude and longitude and other historical, anthropological, or ethnographic
data-from economic and gastronomic information to production figures, re-
cords of prices, and costs.
This factuality helps to create an effect of veracity and gives evidence
of the incursion of women into areas that go beyond domestic spaces inhab-
ited by other women and children. By breaking into public space, they estab-
lish a relationship between that space, knowledge, and authority. In order to
validate their discourses, they use historicist factualism, which includes the
reference to sources consulted in order to support the information offered in
their stories.
The insecurity or discomfort that women travellers of the nineteenth
century felt with respect to the truth on occasion makes them use other rhe-
torical strategies. For example, the author-narrator-protagonists leave open
the possibility of a margin of error. Thus, the Countess of Merlin's use, in La
Havane (1844), of texts by contemporary Cuban authors presupposes a search
for authority and, as Adriana Mendez Rodenas has explained, a dispute with
the canon. In the texts of male travellers, the writers' self-assurance in making
statements is evident since neither strategy nor pretense is necessary: they
possess the truth and therefore what they say is true; women travellers' rela-
tionship with knowledge is conflicted.
The woman subject focuses not only on public space (professional,


economic, political, intellectual), thus fulfilling the requirements of travel
writing, but also on private space (emotional, sexual, domestic). The spaces
of the family-home, food, servants, furniture-and domestic activities of the
family nucleus are recurrent topoi, as much as entering the city, the first view
of the new territory, slavery, or despotism. On her visit to a sugar plantation,
for example, Julia Howe's interest is captured by the slave quarters. She de-
scribes the dark rooms, tiny and dirty, without any windows, air, or light. The
Countess of Merlin's account of her return trip to Cuba in 1840 is divided into
two thematic parts, one related to the issue of slavery with her ideas about the
need to eliminate the slave trade, and the other to family life in Havana.
However, to assume a transhistoric uniformity in women travellers' per-
ception of these economic and social phenomena would mean presupposing
a common "feminine essence" that ignores factors of race and class. The com-
mon factor is more rightly found in a homogeneous cultural background,
which constructs models of behaviour and establishes assumptions and pre-
suppositions, both in women and in men. This difference explains why some
women travellers can participate in imperialistic or slaveholding enterprises,
even though they show resistance in certain areas of these projects, such as in
that of domestic space. This is the case of the Countess of Merlin: while from
a slave-owning family, she understood the need for a non-violent elimination
of slavery for moral as well as for economic reasons.
In this scenario, the main character is the woman who moves inside and
outside of the house, this movement being precisely the object of interest. Male
travellers do not dwell particularly on their own kind-except to support the
presentation and evaluation of a public matter-or on domestic life. The Franco-
Cuban Countess of Merlin and other women travellers to the Caribbean, such
as the British Lady Nugent and the American Julia Howe, show gender aware-
ness as they raise questions about the status and idiosyncrasies of women.
In the case of the Countess of Merlin's La Havane, travel writing al-
lowed the woman author to assume a bold position vis-A-vis the abolition of
slavery and political reform in colonial Cuba. A Cuban who had left the island
at the age of twelve and married a French Napoleon noble, the countess had


built herself a literary reputation in Paris. On her travels, she took advantage
of her friendship with the Cuban abolitionist intelligentsia and used all the
information she could garner from that group to express her point of view. By
contrast, she also constructed the island as idyllic and a site of nostalgia based
on the model of her own family. Even though she was no longer resident in
Cuba, she found a way to look for authority, to express herself-not only on
private but also on public issues-by taking advantage of the flexibility and
general acceptance of women's access to publishing in this genre.


As the above discussion some of the examples included in Vajeras al Caribe
has shown, the woman traveller peered into other people's lives at the level
of discourse in order to then distance herself and elaborate her own truth. By
textually (re)constructing a space of power and knowledge, these texts break
with a monolithic discourse and suggest a reticence towards an unequivocal
truth. The relationship between the self and other women, even when it influ-
ences the image of a colonized subject, forms part of that gender awareness
that defines an enunciating position. One would, of course, also need to con-
sider the question of textuality and the discursive organization of these posi-
tion-specific accounts. But that is a story for another voyage.


1. Among the naively festive examples are Zenodia Bamboat's Les voyageurs
franqais dans l'Inde au XVlle et XVIIe sidcles (1933) and Chandra Prasad
Ram's Early English Travelers in India (1980). Mary Louise Pratt takes
an interdisciplinary perspective in Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and
Transculturation (1992). In cultural and postcolonial studies, Edward Said's
Culture and Imperialism (1993) is foundational.
2. A brief list includes Mary Morris and Larry O'Connor, eds., Maiden
Voyages: Writing of Women Travelers (1993); Bonnie Frederick and Susan
H. McLeod, eds., Women and the Journey: The Female Travel Experience
(1993); Jane Robinson, ed., Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women
Travelers (1994); Marjorie Agosin and Julie Levinson, eds., Magical Sites:


Women Travelers in 19th Century Latin America (1998); and, in Spanish,
M6nica Szurmuk, ed., Mujeres en viaje (2000); and the collection, edited by
Martha Pessarrodona, titled Mujeres viajeras (2001).


Agosin, Marjorie, and Julie Levison, eds. Magical Sites: Women Travelers
in 19th Century Latin America. Fredonia: White Pine, 1998.
Araujo, Nara. "Otra vez, viajeras al Caribe." El alfilery la mariposa :
Genero, voz y escritura en Cuba y el Caribe. La Habana: Letras
Cubanas, 1997. 17-38.
---, ed. Viajeras al Caribe. La Habana: Casa de las Americas, 1983.
Bamboat, Zenodia. Les voyageurs francais dans 'Inde au XVIIe et XVIIIe
siecles. Paris: Soci6t6 de l'Histoire des Colonies Francaises, 1993.
Clifford, James. Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth
Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.
de Certeau, Michel. "Etnografia: La oralidad o el espacio del otro: Lry."
La escritura de la historic. M6xico: Universidad Iberoamericana,
1993. 203-233.
Frederick, Bonnie, and Susan McLeod, eds. Women and the Journey:
The Female Travel Experience. Washington: Washington State
University Press, 1993.
Howe, Julia. A Trip to Cuba. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1860.
Kaplan, Caren. Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of
Displacement. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996.
Lener Sigal, Victoria. La idea de Estados Unidos a travis de viajeros
mexicanos. Mexico: Colegio de M6xico, 1971.
McDowell, Linda. Genero, identidady lugar: Un studio de las geografias
feministas. Madrid: Catedra, 2000.
Mendez Rodenas, Adriana. Gender and Nationalism in Colonial Cuba: The
Travels of Santa Cruz y Montalvo, Condesa de Merlin. Nashville:
Vanderbilt University Press, 1998.
Merlin, Countess of. La Havane. Paris: Librairie d'Amyot, 1844.
Mills, Sara. Discourses ofDifference: An Analysis of Women's Travel
Writing and Colonialism. London: Routledge, 1991.
Morris, Mary, and Larry O'Connor, eds. Maiden Voyages: Writing of
Women Travelers. New York: Random House, 1993.
Nugent, Lady Maria. Lady Nugent 's Journal. Kingston: University of the
West Indies Press, 1966.
Pessarrodona, Marta. Mujeres viajeras. Barcelona: Plaza y Jan6s, 2001.

52 MaComere

Prasad Ram, Chandra, ed. Early English Travellers in India. Delhi: Motital,
Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation.
New York: Routledge, 1992.
Robinson, Jane, ed. Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women
Travellers. Oxford University Press, 1994.
Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1993.
Stanford Friedman, Susan. "Women's Autobiographical Selves: Theory
and Practice." The Private Self Theory and Practice of Women's
Autobiographical Writings. Ed. Shari Benstock. Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1988. 34-61.
Szurmuk, M6nica, ed. Mujeres en viaje. Buenos Aires: Alfaguara, 2000.



Religion officielle en Haiti, le vaudou est une religion syncr6tique, qui associe
les cultes paYens fons et yorubas du Dahomey et les croyances religieuses
chretiennes.' Les c6r6monies du vaudou sont hautement spectaculaires, au
sens visuel du terme, ce qui explique que cette religion ait ete assimil6e pen-
dant longtemps A la sorcellerie par l'opinion occidentale.2 La dimension vi-
suelle, sonore et cinetique du vaudou contribute ind6niablement a sa
potentiality dramatique, ce qui n'a pas echapp6 au dramaturge haitien Franck
Fouch6; celui-ci compare le deroulement d'une c6r6monie vaudou A une
representation thdCtrale en insistant sur :
1'atmosphere fascinante crdde par le decor, les objets de culte, les cos-
tumes, les chants, les danses sacrdes et le rythme de liaison des tambours,
1'6tat des transes, A l'intdrieur d'une organisation de caractere symbolique,
d'une esthetique certain. (21)

La thd6tralitd du vaudou ne cesse d'inspirer depuis quelques d6cennies
d'autres dramaturges carib6ens, qui intbgrent dans leurs pieces des 616ments
de cette religion, m6tamorphosant the theatrical into theatre> (34) suivant
l'expression de Derek Walcott.3 Car il ne s'agit pas de transformer l'espace
the tral en space sacr6, ni les acteurs en oungan ou en ounsi,4 mais

MaComBre 9 (2007): 53-68


d'emprunter au vaudou certaines de ses composantes formelles et structurales
pour nourrir et enrichir la creation dramaturgique par l'exploration de voices
esth6tiques nouvelles et innovantes.5
L'6crivaine guadeloup6enne Simone Schwarz-Bart exploit en profond-
eur le language pluridimensionnel du vaudou dans sa piece Ton beau capitaine
(1987), qui met en sc6ne en quatre tableaux les tourments d'un immigr6 ha'tien,
Wilnor Baptiste, ouvrier agricole travaillant dans les champs de canne guade-
loup6ens. Le protagoniste communique par cassettes avec sa femme Marie-
Ange rest6e au pays; cet change constitute le seul et unique r6confort de
l'homme exile et isol6 sur cette ile hostile et inhospitaliere qu'est pour lui la
Guadeloupe. Les reves et les espoirs de Wilnor s'6croulent le jour ou il entend
la voix ch6rie lui avouer qu'elle 1'a tromp6 et qu'elle attend l'enfant d'un autre.
Apres cette r6v6lation, Wilnor, en proie aux affres de la douleur, de
l'incompr6hension, de la frustration et du d6sespoir, se toure vers le rhum, vers
la musique et vers la danse pour dire ce que les mots ne peuvent exprimer. Son
corps tout entier se livre au rythme du tambour pour accueillir en lui les loa6 et
communiquer avec l'esprit de l'absente, qui fmira par le visiter et le poss6der.
Simone Schwarz-Bart cr6e sur la sc6ne th6etrale les conditions n6ces-
saires au d6roulement d'une c6r6monie vaudou et invite les spectateurs A
d6crypter l'univers symbolique dans lequel 6volue Wilnor. L'espace sc6nique
est red6fini et le rapport au corps r6evalu6 dans cette piece qui dit la douleur
de la separation, de l'absence et de la trahison, et ou s'opere la rencontre du
reel et de l'imaginaire, de l'humain et du divin.

Theatre symbolique

La scene est toute entire plongee dans l'obscurit6 quand commence la piece,
obscurity de la nuit sur laquelle s'ouvre les volets de la petite case creole, oiu
habite Wilnor.7 Cette atmosphere nocturne est propice au davoilement de la
face cache du monde, a l'6mergence des esprits nocturnes, A la rencontre
avec les forces obscures du monde de l'au-deld, a la communication avec les
absents. Seul dans sa case, Wilnor s'appr6te en effet A entrer en relation avec


Marie-Ange, don't il vient de recevoir une cassette apr&s des semaines de si-
lence. Pour ecouter la voix de l'aim6e, il se perche sur un escabeau, qui fait
figure de tabouret. Cet axe vertical, place au centre de la pi&ce, rappelle le
poteau-mitan des c6r6monies vaudou, pilier et (M6traux
67) par lequel les loa descendent parmi les hommes. Traditionnellement plac6
au centre du peristyle,8 il represente et le monde terrestre>> (Hurbon 70), le pilier le long duquel glissent les esprits
pour p6ndtrer et poss6der le vaudouisant. Le poteau-mitan est done un axe
metaphysique, qui donne aces au monde invisible et peut 6tre consid6r6
comme la voie royale de communication entire l'homme et les dieux. En
s'asseyant en hauteur sur cet escabeau, substitute du poteau-mitan, Wilnor se
place ainsi d'embl6e dans une position favorable a l'etablissement d'une com-
munication avec le ciel et avec les absents, en l'occurrence avec l'esprit de sa
femme rest6e au pays. On peut 6galement voir dans cet axe ascendant l'image
du d6sir d'6vasion, qui hante en permanence le personnage, d6sir d'envol, de
fuite, d6sir impossible a assouvir sinon en r6ve. Parmi les nombreux rives
diurnes et nocturnes que fait le personnage, certain manifestent d'ailleurs le
manque physique de I'homme priv6 de la femme. Wilnor confie a Marie-
Ange: l'impression que qa gonfle, ca me fait comme des ballons entire les cuisses, ca
me fait comme si j'allais m'envoler>) (49). L'escabeau, axe vertical a valeur
phallique, devient alors symbol du d6sir sexuel masculin.
Sur la scene, il est un autre objet qui peut faire office de poteau-mitan:
il s'agit de la bouteille de rhum pose A terre et qui figure elle aussi, dans sa
forme oblongue, un axe vertical autour duquel toure le personnage apres
avoir bu plusieurs gorges d'alcool: au d6but du deuxieme tableau, s'accrochant a cette corde invisible [il] fait le tour de la bouteille et
s'immobilise)) (24). Le rhum que boit le protagoniste pour noyer sa solitude
et son desespoir, pour fuir la r6alit6 sordide et miserable de son quotidien, est
d'ailleurs un 616ment indispensable de la c6r6monie rituelle qui accompagne
traditionnellement le vaudouisant dans la transe et l'aide A entrer plus facile-
ment en relation avec l'au-delA.


D'autres accessoires du decor, comme le miroir, appartiennent 6gale-
ment au culte vaudou; en se regardant dans sa <> (7),
comme pour s'assurer de son existence ou pour se redonner une certain
consistance, Wilnor 6tablit d6ja, sans le savoir, un lien avec sup6rieures et invisibles>> (Hurbon 72) situ6es de 1'autre c6t6, car le miroir,
comme l'eau, appelle les loa. Sous la surface plane et lisse du r6el, derriere le
jeu des reflects et des apparences, se cachent en effet les esprits. L'616ment
aquatique est mentionn6 A plusieurs reprises dans cette piece, notamment dans
le reve que raconte Marie-Ange A Wilnor sur la bande enregistr6e qu'elle lui
a envoy6e: elle se voit en train de laver sa chemise A la rivi&re, chemise qui
symbolise l'enveloppe vide du corps de son maria. Quand on sait que les r6ves
sont pr6monitoires dans le vaudou oiu avec les fiddles par le moyen du reve> (M6traux 127), on peut alors interpr6-
ter le reve de Marie-Ange comme une pr6figuration de I'amenuisement phy-
sique, voire psychologique, de Wilnor condamn6 A l'exil, au dur labeur et a la
solitude, voire comme une pr6figuration de sa mort prochaine. Kathleen Gys-
sels rappelle que, dans la soci6td antillaise, la chemise est d'apparat, le dernier rituel vestimentaire pour entamer l'autre vie, pour en
finir avec les soucis et les d6boires d'une vie terrestre miserable>> (83).
L'espace sc6nique devient done le lieu de metamorphose du r6el, ou
chaque objet possede une signification nouvelle, ouf les signes sont A r6inter-
pr6t6s en function d'une codification sp6cifique au vaudou. Le spectateur est
par consequent invite a voir au-delA des apparences, a d6chiffrer cet universe
symbolique crypt6 cr66 par Simone Schwarz-Bart qui fait s'abolir dans Ton
beau capitaine les frontieres entire le monde spiritual et le monde terrestre
pour permettre la rencontre des dieux et des hommes.

Theatre physique: Le corps parle...

Une place preponderante est r6serv6e a la musique, au chant et a la danse dans
le vaudou defini par Frank Fouche comme une >
(32). L'expression < est synonyme en Haiti, dans le language


courant, de <, confirm l'ethnologue Alfred Md-
traux, qui explicit la function particuliere que remplissent musiques et dan-
ses: > (168). C'est au
rythme du tambour, vigoureusement battu, que le danseur initie entire en
transe et peut alors etre poss6d6 par les loa. C'est 6galement au rythme du
tambour que Wilnor se livre corps et dme A la danse pour dire ce qu'il ne
parvient pas A exprimer par les mots et pour entrer, a travers la possession, en
communication avec l'au-delA.
Simone Schwarz-Bart tire pleinement parti des potentialit6s musicales
et chor6graphiques du rituel vaudou dans Ton beau capitaine, o6 les musiques
et les danses offrent au com6dien une , une langue
au-delA du verbe pour exprimer non pas l divers moments d'un drame individual> (8). La dramaturge fait ici implicite-
ment r6f6rence A la crise v6cue par Wilnor Baptiste, successivement en proie
au d6sespoir, A la colere, a la frustration apres l'aveu d'adultdre de sa femme
Marie-Ange. A la parole des personnages s'ajoutent la musique et la danse,
qui se chargent d'une puissance 6motionnelle et dramatique extreme et en
disent plus long que les mots. Le discours f6minin est r6guli&rement ponctud
d'un chant, toujours le meme, qui trahit, par ses variations tonales, les 6tats
d'ime de lajeune femme, sajoie, sa tristesse, ses espoirs et son sentiment de
culpability; vifet enjou6 au d6but de la cassette, il se brise A la fin aprds l'aveu
d'infidelite. Le chant d6finit la femme comme la danse d6finit I'homme dans
cette piece oi la longueur des didascalies atteste de la predominance du lan-
gage corporel: elles constituent a elles seules plus de la moiti6 du texte et
construisent ainsi une veritable partition musical et chor6graphique.
Les emotions de Wilnor se manifestent dans son corps tout entier, un
corps qui 6volue au rythme du tambour, don't les battements retentissent dans
la tete de l'homme sans qu'on sache si cette musique est r6elle ou si elle est
le fruit de son imagination. Dans le pr6ambule de l'ceuvre, Simone Schwarz-
Bart precise: tambour ou orchestra, 6manent directement de l'ame du personnagen (8). La
danse qui succede A cette musique imaginaire est, quant A elle, bien r6elle et


ancre le personnage dans le monde terrestre en lui ouvrant un space, oiu son
corps peut se mouvoir librement. Immigr6 haYtien, Wilnor renoue avec ses
origins par la danse, une danse saccad6e, qui suit le rythme bris6 du tambour
et emprunte directement aux danses vaudou, notamment au nago caracteris6
par des pas courts et presses et de nombreuses pirouettes, et au congo consti-
tu6 de movements violent et circulaires. Dans le culte vaudou, le tambour
est battu avec une 6nergie redoublee et introduit des brisures A centre temps;
la danse ne se fait done pas en ligne droite, mais en zigzag, par A coups,
comme c'est le cas dans la piece, ou Wilnor esquisse des pas incertains,
advance par soubresauts, titube, chancelle, perd 1'6quilibre et tourne sur lui-
m6me (voir fig. 1). Le discours du personnage est tout aussi hach6, saccad6
et ddsarticul6 que les movements de son corps: les <(bouts de phrases qu 'il
lancera successivement> (43), les rep6titions incessantes et les arr6ts soudains
de sa parole, qui se suspend un temps pour reprendre aussit6t, disent le mal-
aise physique et psychologique de l'homme. Alfred Metraux explique que les
movements circulaires tout comme les cassiss qui interrompent le mouve-
ment de la danse, suscitent un 6tat de paroxysme propice aux crises de loa>
(107). La danse de Wilnor semble en tous points conforme a la description
trbs precise que donne I'ethnologue de la crise de possession:
Les poss6des donnent tout d'abord l'impression d'avoir perdu le contr6le
de leur systeme moteur. Apres avoir 6te secou6s par des convulsions spas-
modiques, ils s'elancent droit devant eux, comme projects par un resort,
tournent avec frenesie, se figent sur place le corps penche en avant,
titubent, chancellent, se reprennent, percent A nouveau l'equilibre pour
sombrer finalement dans un etat de semi-pimoison. (107)

La gesticulation excessive, les movements d6sordonnes ainsi que le tressail-
lement de l'homme, qui (38), ajout6
A son riveil brutal a la fin de la pi6ce quand oil ouvre les yeux, regarded autour
de lui, stupefait, la bouche ouverte> (35) laissent penser que Wilnor a bien 6t6
posside. Devenu lieu de transit pour les esprits, son corps ne lui appartient
plus: la possession conduit en effet a une scission de l'8tre habit par un autre,
un autre qui peut s'av6rer multiple.


Fig. 1. Ivre de rhum et de desespoir, Wilnor Baptiste (joue par
Rudy Sylaire dans la mise en scene de Noel Jovignot, Chapelle du
Verbe Incame, Avignon, juillet 2004) esquisse des pas incertains,
semble perdre I'equilibre, mais son achancellement se transform
en danses tandis que ses abras se soulevent comme pour planer.
(Ton beau capitaine 30). Photographic par Nasser Hammaidi;
renroduit avec authorization

Fig. 2. Wilnor reduit en cendres tous les reves qu'il comptait
concrtiser une fois de retour au pays. Tous les billets rdpandus
sur la caisse, quelques uns tombs d terre, seront ainsi peu d peu
consumes, au fur et d measure qu 'il parle.e (Ton beau capitaine
50). Photographic par Nasser Hammaidi; reproduit avec authori-

Fig. 3. Wilnor s'adresse au radio cassette, substitute de Marie-
Ange. Cette (20) jamais n'apparait sur la
scene et n'est qu'une voix (celle d'lna Boulanger dans la mise en
scene de Noel Jovignot). Photographic par Nasser Hammaidi;
reproduit avec authorization.


Thietre mystique: Immanence et transcendence

Dans le quatrieme et dernier tableau de la piece, Wilnor entire en relation avec
l'au-dela, avec les loa qui le possedent successivement et deviennent des in-
term6diaires entire lui et sa femme Marie-Ange, I'absente. L'homme sait qu'il
a &6t visit par un loa, mais ignore lequel des dieux du pantheon vaudou 1'a

Etj'dtais la, A croire sans croire, A douter sans douter, quand tout soudain
j'ai entendu ta voix, ici mime sur mon plancher, ta voix qui allait et venait,
comme dans les temps anciens. Et 9a m'a 6clairi. Eclaird. C'etait peut-etre
un beau geste, une grace de saint Antoine de Padoue. Ou c'etait peut-etre
un dieu de Guinde, Legba, oh oui, ou Damballa Ouddo, ou peut-etre meme
Erzulie Freda Dahomay, la bonne, la chere, la si bonne et ch&re. Je ne sais
pas qui c'dtait, je ne sais pas, j'ai toujours 6te bien consider par ceux d'en
haut. (54)

La succession des dieux 6numerrs par Wilnor, et sous la bienveillance des-
quels il se place, est symbolique. Le premier loa cite est Legba, qui occupe
traditionnellement la place initial dans l'6numeration des divinitis du vau-
dou et se voit done invoque au d6but de chaque cdrrmonie. Aucun loa ne se
manifeste sans son autorisation: il est le maitre des carrefours, le garden de
l'entree des temples; il ruse avec le destin, mais est aussi le protecteur des
foyers et aide les hommes a surmonter les difficulties de la vie. En convoquant
Legba, Wilnor place son couple et son foyer A naitre sous la protection de ce
dieu qui lui assurera un avenir meilleur. Damballa Ouedo, deuxieme loa cit6
par Wilnor, est un esprit tout aussi puissant; symbolism par une couleuvre, il
est tres souvent accompagne de sa femme Ai'da-Ouedo: le couple est charge
d'assurer le lien entire le ciel et la mer ainsi que de faciliter l'acquisition de
richesses materielles et de prestige. Or, on sait que l'ouvrier agricole haitien
a 6conomis6 de l'argent pour rentrer au pays et r6aliser ses reves (faire con-
struire une veranda derriere la case, acheter des cabris et une vache, de la
vaisselle en email...); on sait aussi que ces economies viennent de partir en
fumde, car Wilnor a brfil un a un les billets lentement amass6s pendant des
ann6es (voir fig. 2). Ce geste apparemment insens6 prouve l'6tat de desespoir


du personnage pour qui plus rien n'a de valeur. II accuse aussi, une fois en-
core, la contradiction entire reve et r6alite, car un hypoth6tique retour au pays
est d6sormais rendu mat6riellement impossible, du moins dans l'imm6diat.
Dans la religion vaudou, les dieux qui visitent les initi6s sont census
leur transmettre un message, voire leur accorder toutes sortes de faveurs. Quel
est done ce message d6livrd par les loa A Wilnor? Une promesse de success A
venir avec Legba et Damballa Ou6do? Une promesse d'amour avec Erzulie?

Les veov, dessins symboliques des loa tra-
Sces A terre avec de la farine ou du marc de
cafe, appellent la presence des esprits. [Ici]
sont associds les symbols d'Ezili, Iwa de
S 1'amour et de Dambala, repr6sent6 par les
C Iserpents>> (Hurbon 65)

En se plagant sous l'6gide d'Erzulie Freda Dahomay, d6esse de la
beauty et de l'amour, traditionnellement associ6e a la Vierge Marie,9 Wilnor
6tablit un lien ultime avec son spouse, Marie-Ange, don't le nom seul est
rdv6lateur de l'essence immat6rielle de la figure feminine. Le terme >
d6signe effectivement dans le culte vaudou Il'me scind6e en deux: le gross
bon ange> (gwo bon anj) est le siege des capacit6s affectives et r6flexives;
associ6 a l'ombre, il s'oppose au (ti bon anj) d'essence su-
p6rieure et qui joue le r6le d'ange garden. Marie-Ange possede ainsi pour son
6poux un visage double, une face lumineuse et obscure, car elle est succes-
sivement la femme aim6e et d6sir6e, et la femme adultre honnie. Le nom
) atteste en outre de l'essence doublement divine, immat6rielle
de cette (20), voix enregistr6e qui vient peupler la soli-


tude de Wilnor et s'unir A lui. Judith Miller congoit cette communion mys-
tique qu'est la crise de possession vecue par le protagoniste comme une
possibility pour le couple spare d'etre a nouveau reuni: < host in voodoo ritual, privileged to invite inside an other, the ghostly guest,
thus connecting both his and Marie-Ange's mental and spiritual worlds, re-
animating the spaces between them> (227). La voix de Marie-Ange devient
ame, esprit de l'amour, qui visit son mari, le p6netre, le possede, 1'6claire.
Le personnage masculin declare:

Et brusquement,je me suis vu eclaire, 6claire 6claire, 6, eclaire; comme
sij'avais une ampoule au milieu de la gorge. (Ses mains depart et d'autre
de sa gorge miment la lumiere qui irradie.) Voila. (Pause) Et maintenant
je vois,je sais, je comprends. (54)

Dans une langue emphatique et image, oil la parole est redouble par le
geste, Wilnor met en mots et en movements cette revelation don't il cherche
lui-meme A se persuader (la r6p6tition atteste de son ahurissement). Une md-
tamorphose psychologique s'opbre, consecutive A la prise de < sexuelle d6clenchde par la performance vocale de la voix feminine, une voix
douee de pouvoirs shamaniques,> selon Alvina Ruprecht (318). Eclaird, il-
lumine, I'homme semble &tre ddsormais pr&t A accorder son pardon A sa
femme enceinte, a qui ii conseille de prendre soin d'elle, de ne pas se mettre
pour que l'enfant a naitre soit (56).
Les mots < et se chargent ici d'une resonance nouvelle en rela-
tion avec la terminologie du vaudou: l'enfant de l'adultere devient fruit de la
communion des ames.
Cette ultime revelation ou illumination v6cue par Wilnor se produit
just apres qu'il a 6t6 visit, physiquement possed6 par l'esprit de sa femme.
Corps et esprit sont done intrinsequement lies dans ce theitre profond6ment
physique, qui ouvre A une dimension metaphysique par une mise en relation
de l'humain et du divin. Une metamorphose de l'8tre a lieu comme si la crise
de possession conduisait Wilnor A une prise de conscience de son identity, une
identity red6finie pour H. Adlai Murdoch, qui congoit l'6volution parallble des
personnages comme des


nitionm et parole de related process of metamorphosis and identity construc-
tion (139). II est ind6niable que Wilnor passe par une s6rie de transformations,
par une mise A 1'6preuve de son amour et par une remise en question des raves
qu'il a nourris, des projects qu'il a construits. Toutefois, quand il merge fina-
lement de sa crise et se retrouve face A lui-meme, il semble ne plus vraiment
savoir qui il est. Ahuri, il se regarded alors une demiere fois dans le miroir
avant que la scene ne soit replong6e d6finitivement dans l'obscurit6, tandis
que r6sonne dans le vide cette question r6p6t6e et laiss6e en suspens: beau capitaine? (58). Qui est d6sormais Wilnor, ce capitaine sans navire,
sans femme, comme d6poss6d6 de son amour et de lui-m6me? La possession
divine semble aboutir a la d6possession identitaire d'un homme don't la voix
et le corps se fondent et disparaissent dans la nuit . laissant le spectateur
incertain de son destin.
La dialectique entire le visible et l'invisible, le tangible et l'intangible,
le physique et le spiritual, la presence et I'absence est au coeur de Ton beau
capitaine, piece don't la mise en scene suscite des interrogations multiples. Le
sens de l'ceuvre peut consid6rablement varier en function des choix du
metteur en scene, choix qui divergent tres largement.10 Si certain optent pour
la presence physique de Marie-Ange sur la scene, d'autres au contraire y
voient un centre sens. Alvina Ruprecht confirm que la presence ou l'absence
d'une actrice a pr6occup6 tous les metteurs en scene qui ont monte cette piece
jusqu'a present> (315). En 1987, date de creation de la piece, Syto Cav6
dresse un decor original qui manifeste sensiblement le caractere vaudouesque
de la piece, comme en atteste Bridget Jones:

The setting of Wilnor's sparsely furnished hut was dominated by a 'potau
mitan,' the centre pole focusing worship and joining human and spirit
worlds. The metaphors of travelling by water are enriched by visuel allu-
sions to Agou6, loa of the sea, for example, while Erzulie Freda Dahomey,
goddess of love, is propitiated in the gifts of perfumed soap, and Wilnor
identifies with Ogun to gain courage. (99)

La dimension spirituelle de cette mise en sc6ne est toutefois consid6rablement
att6nu6e par la presence physique de Marie-Ange, a qui est r6serv6 un space


propre, s6par6 de celui de Wilnor, car la scene est divis6 en deux zones claire-
ment d6limit6es. Alvina Ruprecht ne peut s'emp&cher de penser que l dramatique s'est transform6e radicalement (315) du fait de la presence phy-
sique de Marie-Ange sur la scene, presence probl6matique, car elle remet en
cause la nature immaterielle, transcendantale du personnage f6minin, en
mEme temps qu'elle amenuise la tension entire presence et absence, entire r6-
alit6 et imaginaire. Cette oscillation est parfaitement respect6e par Noel Jovi-
gnot, qui opte pour I'absence physique du personnage f6minin, r6duit a une
voix. Seul en scene, le com6dien haYtien Rudy Sylaire, qui interpr&te le role
de Wilnor, s'adresse A l'absente et relieve le pari de rendre la femme pr6sente
par la seule 6coute attentive de sa voix, celle enregistr6e par Ina Boulanger,
comedienne qui jamais n'apparait sur la scene si ce n'est sous la forme du
radio cassette, et qui r6ussit done A incamer vocalement Marie-Ange (voir fig.
3). Simone Schwarz-Bart, qui a assist a l'avant premiere de la representation
A L'Artchipel, scene national de Guadeloupe, avoue avoir 6et surprise de voir
1 Noel Jovignot est en effet parvenu, dans une mise en
scene sobre et subtile, a rendre toute la puissance et la sensibility, toute la
force et la d6licatesse de Ton beau capitaine.


Simone Schwarz-Bart a su parfaitement exploiter dans sa piece Ton beau
capitaine la richesse formelle et esth6tique, symbolique et spirituelle du vau-
dou mise au service du th6itre. Le language verbal s'unit au language corporel,
visuel et sonore pour nous conduire dans le monde immat6riel du reve, de
l'imaginaire, dans le monde invisible, intangible de l'esprit d'un homme
hant6 par ses demons et illumine par les dieux. De plus en plus nombreux sont
les dramaturges carib6ens qui explorent le language pluridimensionnel et poly-
s6mique offert par les pratiques rituelles religieuses et s6culaires.12 En Haiti,
Franketienne ne cesse de s'interroger depuis des ann6es sur le pouvoir du
vaudou dans un th6itre socialement et politiquement engage, qui fait se c6-
toyer la po6sie et le sacred' 3 Aujourd'hui, dans la filiation de Frank6tienne,


Guy Regis Junior, alias Baka Roklo, fondateur de la compagnie du Collectif
Nous, cr6e un thditre esth6tiquement et id6ologiquement subversif qui utilise
les composantes musicales, chor6graphiques et formelles du vaudou pour d6-
noncer la corruption politique, la misere 6conomique, la violence et les injus-
tices sociales de son pays. Le jeune metteur en sc6ne croit en un thdetre de
proximity et n'h6site pas A faire descendre sa troupe dans la rue pourjouer au
sein du people ainsi mis A contribution.'4
Cette rencontre du rituel et du th6etre sur les scenes carib6ennes con-
temporaines g6n&re des creations hybrides, qui entremelent des forces esth6-
tiques et artistiques plurielles, ou la musique et la danse favorisent
l'exploration d'un language physique codifi6. Les 6critures dramatiques et sc6-
niques n6es du rituel s'affranchissent ainsi du mim6tisme et du r6alisme au
profit de I'exub6rance et d'une th6atralit6 exacerb6e: la pratique d'une esthe-
tique haute en couleurs, tres stylis6e et codifi6e se conjugue A l'exploration
d'un language physique hautement symbolique. L'int6gration des rituels dans
les dramaturgies carib6ennes contemporaines favorite finalement la cohesion
collective et le enforcement de la communaut6 r6unie dans le partage de
pratiques culturelles ancestrales. Les traditions populaires, hier devalu6es,
d6nigr6es, voire renides, sont r6approprices et revaloris6es aujourd'hui sur les
scenes thdatrales par des auteurs qui cherchent a se d6marquer des dramatur-
gies occidentales et A afficher leur sp6cificite carib6enne.


1. Dans son essai Le vaudou haftien, l'ethnologue Alfred M6traux d6finit
le vaudou comme africaines 6troitement m616s A des pratiques catholiques) (11). Laennec
Hurbon confirm la nature syncr6tique du vaudou et remote dans 1'histoire
esclavagiste: malgr6 la christianisation des esclaves par les colons europ6ens,
les cultes pa'ens ont continue A 8tre pratiqu6s sous couvert des saints et
des sacrements du catholicisme et se sont reconstitu6s dans les Amdriques
sous des appellations diverse, le vaudou en Haiti, la santeria a Cuba, le
candomblk au Br6sil, le shango cult A Trinidad (14).


2. Consid6r6 comme un culte diabolique et < par les colons
europ6ens, le vaudou < humans> est encore percu au XXe siecle par certain auteurs comme principal raison du recul de la civilisation en Haiti>, declare Laennec
Hurbon (54).
3. Le dramaturge saint-lucien Derek Walcott juge indispensable de proc6der
a un travail d'esth6tisation et de domestication de la matiere populaire pour
<< transformer le thditral en thditre> afin d'6viter l'ecueil de la folklorisation.
Ces propos concernent la transposition du carnaval au theatre, mais peuvent
ais6ment etre appliques au vaudou.
4. Dans la religion vaudou, le oungan est le pretre et le ounsi l'initid.
5. De tres nombreux articles critiques ont 6t6 6crits sur Ton beau capitaine
et leurs auteurs adoptent souvent une approche sociologique liee A l'exil
(notamment McKinney, Salvodon, and de Souza). Nous nous proposons ici
de mettre l'accent sur la dimension culturelle de la piece, sur l'analyse des
effects et des enjeux de l'utilisation du vaudou sur la dramaturgie.
6. Les loa ou Iwa sont les dieux du vaudou.
7. Dans la description du d6cor donn6e en pr6ambule de la piece, on lit :
< (7).
8. Le p6ristyle est un hangar ouvert, ou se d6roulent traditionnellement les
c6r6monies vaudou.
9. La Vierge Marie a pour homologue Erzulie dans le vaudou, religion
syncr6tique oiu chaque loa est associd A un saint chretien.
10. Ton beau capitaine a 6te pour la premiere fois mise en scene par Syto
Cav6 au Centre des Arts et de la Culture A Pointe-A-Pitre lors des troisimmes
Rencontres Carib6ennes de Theatre en avril 1987, puis par TomAs Gonzalez
a l'Instituto Superior de Arte de La Havane A Cuba en novembre 1993. Cette
piece a aussi 6td monte en version anglaise (Your Handsome Captain) par
Seret Scott au Ubu Repertory Theater A New York en mars 1988 et par Jean
Small au Creative Arts Centre de Kingston en JamaYque en f6vrier et mars 1993.
11. Simone Schwarz-Bart a fait part de ses premieres impressions A Noel
Jovignot qui les a livr6es dans un entretien r6alis6 le 13 juillet 2004 A la
Chapelle du Verbe Incarnm en Avignon, oi a 6td jouee la piece. Cet entretien
mis en ligne sur le site de la revue Africultures pourra 6tre complete par la
lecture de l'article de B6rard < enfants de la mer et Th&rese en mille morceaux, trois pieces de thfitre, trois
visions d'Ha'ti>> (2004).


12. Pour plus une analyse plus complete de la question, on consultera B6rard,
Du rituel au theatre carib6en contemporain (2006).
13. De Troufoban (1978) A Kalibofobo (1988) en passant par Bobomansouri
(1984) et Kaselezo (1986), Franketienne interroge constamment le rapport
entire le politique et le th6etre au sein d'une soci6t6 repressive qui entrave la
liberty du cr6ateur.
14. Cette dimension participative est manifesto dans la piece Service
Violence Serie, jou6e au festival de Liege, A Bruxelles et dans le Pas-de-
Calais en janvier 2005, puis au Festival des Francophonies de Limoges en
septembre 2005.


Berard, Stephanie. Haiti en Avignon: Ton beau capitaine, Les enfants de
la mer et Th&rese en mille morceaux, trois pieces de th6dtre, trois
visions d'Ha'ti.> Africultures 61 (d6cembre 2004): 175-178.
---. Du rituel au theatre carib6en contemporain. Notre Librairie 162 (juin-
aofit 2006): 97-103.
De Souza, Pascale. < capitaine de Simone Schwarz-Bart.> Essays in Theatre/Etudes
thddtrales 20.1 (2001): 43-50.
Fouch6, Franck. Vaudou et theatre: Pour un nouveau theatre populaire.
Montr6al: Edition Nouvelle Optique, 1976.
Gyssels, Kathleen. La "malemort" dans Ton beau capitaine.>) MaComere 6
(2004): 78-88.
Hurbon, Ladnnec. Les mysteres du vaudou. Paris: D6couvertes Gallimard,
Jones, Bridget. "Theatre and Resistance? An Introduction to Some
Caribbean Plays." An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone
Writing: Guadeloupe and Martinique. Ed. Sam Haigh. Oxford:
Berg, 1999. 83-100.
McKinney, Kitzie. dans Ton beau capitaine.>) French Review 65.3 (1992): 449-460.
M6traux, Alfred. Le vaudou haitien. Paris: Tel Gallimard, 1958.
Miller, Judith. "Caribbean Women Playwrights: Madness, Memory, but
Not Melancholia." Theater Research International 23.3 (1998):
Murdoch, Adlai H. "Giving Women Voice: Alienation and Communication
in Ton Beau Capitaine." (Euvres et Critiques 26.1 (2001): 134-143.

68 MaComere

Ruprecht, Alvina. l'interth6dtralit6 chez Simone Schwartz-Bart.>) Poetiques et
imaginaires ) Francopolyphonie litteraire des Amdriques. Ed.
Pierre Laurette et Hans-George Ruprecht. Paris: L'Harmattan,
1995. 313-326.
Salvadon, Marjorie. "In-between Borders: Writing Exile in Ton beau
capitaine by Simone Schwarz-Bart." Romance Language Annual 8
(1996): 130-133.
Schwarz-Bart, Simone. Ton beau capitaine. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1987.
Ton beau capitaine. Par Simone Schwarz-Bart. Mise en scene: Noel
Jovignot. Interpretation: Rudy Sylaire. Chapelle du Verbe Incarn,
Avignon. Juillet 2004.
Walcott, Derek. "What the Twilight Says: An Overture." Dream on Monkey
Mountain and Other Plays. New York: Noonday Press, Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, 1970. 3-40.



A number of Afro-Caribbean diasporic women writers have affirmed a "rain-
bow" epistemology in their work on migrant experience and identity. As the
speaker in Jean "Binta" Breeze's poem "Planted by the Waters" declares, "an
rainbow wrap we mind chile / she putting rainbow roun we mind" (Arrival 30).
Jamaican writer Pamela Mordecai also refers to rainbow-that is, multico-
loured and multi-faceted-ways of knowing as "prismatic vision," wherein
multiple vectors of experience, cultural heritage, and language interact and
produce fluid and open social perspectives.' The experience of migration
opens up rainbow spaces as a reading of poems by Breeze, Lillian Allen, and
Pamela Mordecai illustrates. Faced with racial and social injustice, the im-
migrant speakers plumb their specific cultural resources in search of the
means with which to forge inclusive "rainbow" communities in their adopted
Like their personae, Breeze, Allen, and Mordecai know the experience
of migration first-hand. All three poets were born and grew up in Jamaica but
have lived abroad for several years: Allen and Mordecai write from Toronto
and Breeze from London, and their respective personae speak from the same
locations. The poems reveal the personae's desire to forge transcultural af-
filiations and to translate Afro-Caribbean culture and values into metropolitan

MaComere 9 (2007): 69-87


contexts, to become what Homi K. Bhabha would describe as "vernacular
cosmopolitans" (133). While theories of new cosmopolitanisms are attempt-
ing to move beyond exclusively counter-discursive post-colonial strategies,2
Afro-Caribbean women writers have been formulating critical and poetical
responses to migration that valorize self-transformation while asserting the
primacy of communal affiliation. As a result, their work raises questions con-
cerning the site of transcultural transaction-whether such negotiations take
place within the self or between people.
Since the late 1980s, a number of critics have offered theories that under-
score the non-essentialization of minority identity, particularly in relation to
globalization and migration studies.3 For black British theorist Paul Gilroy, di-
aspora is a crucible of a "social ecology of identification"; just as transatlantic
slavery produced a New World Creole consciousness in the most horrifying of
conditions, contemporary diasporic migration provides an opportunity for post-
colonial persons to perform and transform the rainbow epistemes and "other
logics" of their own cultures. Such opportunities represent temporal-spatial
"nodes" that can "allow us to perceive . new understandings of self, same-
ness, and solidarity" (Gilroy, Against Race 128). From a different standpoint,
Walter Mignolo emphasizes the critical edge of post-colonial alterity, which
undercuts or exposes European concepts of identity. Post-colonial confrontation
produces new "loci of enunciation," in which "subaltern modernities" strive to
"bring to the foreground the force and creativity of knowledge subalternized
during a long process of colonization" (13).
Different emphases regarding post-colonial dynamics appear in Homi
K. Bhabha's recent work. Bhabha first writes of"vernacular" or "minoritarian
cosmopolitanism" in an essay for the 1997 Re-inventing Britain conference,
and he has continued to develop and refine the concept in recent publications.
To a large extent, Bhabha recycles and formalizes the insights of cultural stud-
ies groundbreaker Stuart Hall regarding "old and new identities" that are put
into play and transformed by globalization's gradual "erosion ... of national
identities as points of reference [and] of collective social identity" (4). Simi-
larly, Bhabha posits non-essentialized socio-political identifications that are


grounded in the "temporal" location of "minoritarian cosmpolitanism," the
space of present-day multicultural urban metropolises.4 Conveying process
and action rather than a definable set of characteristics, "minoritarian cosmo-
politanism" consists of a "form of cultural intervention and intention," where
"to 'minoritise' might be a verb: a positive identification, where the affiliative
decision to act in the cause of exclusion, or to participate in the emergence of
new social movements, engenders a mode of public discourse articulated with
a strong affective and imaginative charge" ("Minority Culture" pt. 1).
Elsewhere, Bhabha elaborates on this alternative understanding of cos-
mopolitanism, where vernacular cosmopolitans "are compelled to make a
tryst with cultural translation as an act of survival. ... From the perspective
of the 'in-between', claims to cultural authenticity and sovereignty-suprem-
acy, autonomy, hierarchy-are less significant 'values' than an awareness of
the hybrid conditions of inter-cultural exchange" ("Vernacular" 139). He fur-
ther specifies that "cultural translation... is a process through which cultures
are required to revise their own systems of reference, norms and values, by
departing from their habitual or 'inbred' rules of transformation" (141). Using
terms like "awareness," "own systems," and "inbred" rules, Bhabha's diction
intimates a subject-oriented, self-centred politics, so to speak. The centripetal
tendency of his argument is illustrated by his interpretation of two Adrienne
Rich poems in the Reinventing Britain "manifesto" on vernacular cosmo-
politanism. There, he emphasizes how global political upheavals invoke an
"awareness" in Rich's speakers, who are thereby "compelled" to renegotiate
multiple identifications and who are subsequently transformed into shifting,
fractured, but now conscientiously vernacular cosmopolitan subjects. Such a
reading risks suggesting that world events and lived experience only have
meaning as catalysts for personal cognitive readjustment. Jonathan Friedman
refers to this centripetal disposition as symptomatic of the process by which
"hybridization theorists" self-define and define the world as a "cultural mix-
ture," which "occurs only as a phenomenon of self-identification" (81).
However, much literary criticism on "diasporic," transculturall," and
"hybrid" identities narrowly addresses internal group dynamics. In this vein,


works of fiction are combed for signs of a particular group's hybrid national or
ethnocultural identifications: for instance, how Jamaican identity progresses
into a Jamaican-Canadian, Caribbean-American, or black British identity is
traced and applauded. In another vein, Bhabha, Gilroy, and the Martiniquan
Edouard Glissant focus on theoretical or sociological explorations of multicul-
tural group dynamics. Avoided or dismissed, poetic works remain under-repre-
sented in post-colonial critical dialogues, which Jahan Ramazani attributes to
the genre's resistance to such evolutionary schemes (4).
I wish to show how lyric poetry-often dismissed for its unified, tran-
scendent subject, its referentiality or non-referentiality, or its monologism-
usefully intervenes in current debates about transcultural migrant identity. The
Afro-Caribbean diasporic poems below perform the process of transcultural
affiliation rather than merely reproduce its plot. Moreover, Afro-Caribbean cul-
tural practices are perceived neither as an exclusive possession nor as being of
limited applicability to other cultures: as the ancestral speaker of Breeze's poem
warns, "rainbow dere for all / an if we try to snatch dem back / ain't no rainbow
at all" (Arrival 30). The three poems examined here give weight to both terms
of Bhabha's beguiling concept: their speakers employ black vernacular and
quotidian practices within a cosmopolitan, metropolitan context. Certainly the
speakers renegotiate their identities, but they do so uniquely in terms of a de-
sired and projected relation toward others. Breeze's early poem "In the Heat of
the Moment" highlights the culturally disabling and sometimes violent conse-
quences of identity norms in London. Next, Allen's poem "Unnatural Causes"
exposes the pathologies of discriminatory citizenship and civic exclusion in
techno-enthralled Toronto. Finally, Mordecai's "My Sister Red" illustrates the
empowering potential of translating effective diasporic practices into "foreign"
racial, national, and cultural contexts.
Breeze's poem "In the Heat of the Moment" (Spring Cleaning 58) reveals
how the mythology of British identity subjugates-although to different de-
grees-both white and black British subjects. Institutional and social structures
assist in normalizing propriety, civility, and reserve as intrinsically English (and
via cultural imperialism, British) and thus "colonize in reverse" (Bennett 106)5


as British identity is ultimately impoverished by the unofficial protocols of
proper British affect and behaviour. Carol Johnson argues as much in her essay
on English constructions of Welsh, Scot, and Irish identities:

The silences in regard to articulating privileged identities only become a
problem when the assumed dominance begins to be undermined. Then
silence becomes an absence and a lack, and also a grievance, because it
becomes evident that there is no clear British or English identity separate
from the assertion of privilege over 'others.' (172)6

Breeze reveals that the threat to established hegemonic identity arises in even
the most mundane and trivial of circumstances. The poem begins with a
change in the weather:

London's burning
the sun comes out
in smiles
on black folk faces. (58)

"Black folk" convening joyfully in public bring out the sun, rather than vice
versa. Such an act ironically undercuts the phrase "London's burning," which
refers to the Great Fire of 1666 and conventionally means "things are falling
apart." The phrase's apocalyptic overtones resonate in an allusion to the Brix-
ton riots, when Brixton's majority black dwellers protested against police
brutality. Here, the apocalypse sparked by the street revellers only transforms
a dour "English" urbanscape into a boisterous and peaceful cross-cultural,
interracial commotion. In contrast to traditional concepts of Englishness, the
culture expressed here is dynamic, inclusive, and spontaneous.
Back home on the islands, West Indians regularly congregate on im-
promptu occasions, and these norms travel with them to the metropolis; yet
these ostensibly harmless norms seem to pose a direct threat to Englishness
when embraced by its white citizens: white punks who join in the celebration
"pay the price / embracing naked freedom" (58). Though far from upstanding
citizens (punks or anti-establishment disenfranchised white young men ac-
tively contested England's racial and class hierarchy during the 1970s and
1980s), their "naked" white freedom aggravates the threat already posed by


the expressive freedom of their black fellow-celebrants. While "skirts lose
inches / midriffs compliment," the music rises "in decibels," and

white men
lick their lips
and sweat
from self-made cells
old women frown
from baggy skin
jumpers scarves
lack of faith. (58)

Synecdoche illustrates the divide in cultural attitudes toward spectacle: as
parched lips, frowns, and baggy skin contrast with sunny smiles and tight
midriffs, so condescension and envy contrast carefree physicality and light-
heartedness. English voyeurs gaze longingly from the "self-made cells" of
English cultural norms, more victims of suppression than of repression. These
onlookers disapprove of the celebrants' wildness, even as their own uncon-
scious gestures betray beastliness. Breeze ironically transfers the stereotype
of the over-sexed, imminently dangerous black Briton to the suppressed but
resentful white Briton. Historically, the racist stereotype continues to bias
official British national policy and social discourse, as Gilroy explains: "The
idea of the city as ajungle where bestial, predatory values prevail... contrib-
uted significantly to contemporary definitions of 'race,' particularly those
which highlight the supposed primitivism and violence of black residents in
inner-city areas" ("Urban" 409). These assumptions have afflicted social rela-
tions in even more subtle ways: Breeze's umbrellas, for example, manifest a
normalized "lack of faith," which in turn forecloses trust. The ability of "faith-
less" cultures to affiliate and collaborate with the ethnocultural other is put
into question here, for these actions require trust.
Trust, however, is out of the question when police assume the criminality
of British citizens according to racial identity. While punks pay the price of
censure and disenfranchisement, blacks risk bodily violence: "beasts are out /


in numbers / sniffing prey" (59). Hunting skin colour and nationalities, police-
men and National Front hoodlums reinforce the exclusionary aims of England's
cultural gatekeepers through vigilantism. In total contrast, the revelling "black
folk faces" bum London into a new order where "streets shout colour" rather
than violence. The divisive term "coloured" thereby becomes a vivid pennant
for a projected multi-ethnic, multicultural London social commune.
In Caribbean culture, there is room for informal and impromptu collective
use of public space, and these practices challenge definitions of the public
sphere as a solely professional, regulated, or utilitarian space.7 Rather than dis-
ciplining the body and its non-utilitarian expression of physical and emotional
feeling, Caribbean culture considers the public sphere just another "loci of
enunciation," whether of critique or of support. Gilroy affirms, "Black artists
have thus identified the body as a seat of desires and as a nexus of interpersonal
relationships in a special way which expresses the aspiration that skin colour
will one day be no more significant than eye pigment and, in the meantime,
announces that black is beautiful" ("Urban" 407). Breeze demonstrates how the
devaluation of public spontaneity and exuberance for racist and culturally big-
oted reasons stunts the growth of both majority and minority identities. Any
ethos grounded in a "lack of faith" is an aggrieved and resentful one, obstruct-
ing creative social development and trust. Ultimately, trust is a species of im-
provisation, that dynamic norm so ubiquitous in diasporic cultures. Vernacular
and cosmopolitan, Breeze's colourful change in the weather anticipates a har-
mony lasting longer than "just one day." The poem closes by heralding a rain-
bow of faces: "London's full / of faces / breaking out / for just one day."
Breeze's poem does not address the economic interests that promote
prejudice, which is the focus of Lillian Allen's performance poem "Unnatural
Causes" (Conditions Critical). Allen exposes the capitalist underpinnings of
metropolitan civic bigotry, which disproportionately-but not exclusively-
afflicts migrants from lesser-developed countries. She takes to task the tacit
classifications of citizenship and state belonging that exclude those who fail
to register on the proper fiscal scale. An activist, Allen champions grassroots
approaches to social welfare, arguing that similar needs and social commit-


ments unite a community more effectively than common ethnic or national
affiliations: "I am not Jamaican one minute and a woman another minute or
Canadian another-I am all of these. It's a process of claiming a fuller self.
Having the same sense of values is the basis of a community" ("Dub Com-
munity"). The poem's critique is grounded on the idea that a community is a
kind of home, and a city is a broader community. The civic ethos that for-
swears any communal function disenfranchises people who can neither afford
a house of their own nor obtain employment to acquire a home. Such civics
withhold citizenship, or, in other words, belonging. A pun on medical forensic
discourse, the title "Unnatural Causes" indicts Toronto's municipal authorities
and residents for denying recognition and resources to the city's homeless.
Toronto's city of ice reflects and deflects nature and humanity. Toronto per-
sonifies the corpus of officials, employees, and "real" residents that contrast
the homeless body as flesh-vulnerable to hunger, abjection, and the weather.
The poem's emphasis on nature and the body conveys an "organic"
ethos that, according to Gilroy, originates from the black experience of bio-
logical subjugation: "A sense of the body's place in the natural world can
provide, for example, a social ecology and an alternative rationality that ar-
ticulate a cultural and moral challenge to the exploitation and domination of
'the nature within us and without us'" ("Urban" 407). Allen's speaker accuses
the city of prioritizing corporate metallic scaffolding and monetary bloodlines
over all forms of natural life, arguing that a city's fundamental "homing"
values should secure its living bodies the right to warmth, food, recognition,
and care. Simulating the howling wind of Toronto's winter, the poem launches
with an eight-count moan that fades into an echo. An ambivalent figure, the
wind howls for justice while at the same time imposing the harsh elemental
consequences of social injustice:
The wind howled and cursed
it knew no rest
when it ran free
it was a hurricane
to be watched and silenced. (Allen, Conditions liner notes 2)


The affective power of spoken performance imbues the wind with hurricane
power, metaphorically releasing the wind's voice from the prison bars of sky-
scrapers. Toronto may remain mute, but the wind howls. By literary conven-
tion, the hurricane symbolizes not only power and danger, but also
Afro-Caribbean culture and the rebel rhythms of its languages: "the hurricane
does not roar in pentameter," and neither should the West Indian poetic voice,
Edward Kamau Brathwaite asserts. The hurricane "approximates the natural
experience, the environmental experience" of the Caribbean and its vernacu-
lars ("History of the Voice" 265). Instigating a cross-cultural weather change,
Allen invokes the hurricane to vindicate Toronto's homeless. The hurricane
carries the voice of Caroline Bungle, a homeless woman who appears only at
the end of the poem, symbolizing the Herculean strength required to crawl out
from beneath the city's erasure.
If the cold infrastructure of northern metropolitan cities contributes to
the desensitization of its qualified residents, callow West Indian would-be
immigrants naively succumb to the dazzle of modern civilization and its ster-
ile, high-tech, high-rise urban gloss:

The city, a curtained metropolitan glare
grins a diamond sparkle sunset
it cuts a dashing pose
"The picture you sent on the postcard was
It reminded me of a fairy land,
where everything is so clean
a place where everyone is happy
and well taken care of
...and the sky...the seems so
round, so huge, and so indifferent."
(Allen, Conditions liner notes 2)

The jarring background music brings to mind two rubber bands being tightly
wound and sprung together, as if to echo the brittle music of Toronto's heart-
strings. In contrast, the voice of a West Indian from back home expresses
wonder and zeal, imparting her naivete. The same glass curtain of the sky-
scraper that so delights her deprives the homeless of a view of sun: the "roll-


ing shadow" reflected on the building signifies the sun at two removes.
Moreover, the skyscrapers personify capitalists who "curtain" their view of the
people below. Deflected light glares on the undesirable, exchanging its rich
"diamond sparkle" sunset only with the "indifferent" sky and other buildings.
We are again at several removes from nature: the building's reflection, deflected
by the transparent sky, suggests a psychoanalytic mirror scenario where no liv-
ing thing, even the elite gazer, is recognized. Ultimately, the techno-glitter of
postcard images promotes an ideal of progress in which all individuals deemed
regressive, unclean, and not "taken care of' must be filtered out. If nature rep-
resents another form of community, then the shift from a communal ecology to
a capitalist one supposes the expendability of certain people.
Protesting her "unnatural" condition, Caroline Bungle bungles, so to
speak, into the postcard-perfect scene by staging her patently unphotogenic
life. Significantly, "Bungle" echoes the Jamaican Creole word "dungle" (dung
heap). Caroline is not a dung heap of humanity but of terror:

Caroline Bungle tugs her load
stalks a place to invite a little company of
this my dear is very unpostcardlike
Not inclined to poses
posturing only her plight
a dungle of terror
of lost hope
an explorer in the arctic of our culture.
(Allen, Conditions liner notes 2)

Allen's humour somewhat alleviates this picture of despair: fastidious tourists
hastily "unclick" their cameras, but Caroline has already inscribed her self on
the lenses of their eyes, the negative image of the city's sparkling artifice. The
speaker reframes the episode so that Caroline seizes agency: she is "Not in-
clined to poses" and represents only what others would rather avoid seeing.
The speaker further positions Caroline as "an explorer in the arctic," among
the ranks of Canada's revered early historical figures.


A brief but irrevocable connection occurs when Caroline "seeks a con-
nection" with the speaker, who proceeds to document Caroline's plight. Al-
though Caroline's identity is never given in the poem, the speaker's identity
as a Caribbean immigrant implies that she too is well acquainted with the
vulnerability of Canada's others. She posts the photograph to her blithe rela-
tive in the islands with the intention of raising political consciousness, but to
no avail:

"The last postcard you sent was kinda weird...
poor people, sleeping at the bus stop!??
Surely you don't have that there..."
"... anyway, I'm dying to come to Canada
I'm a pioneer!" (Allen, Conditions liner notes 3)

Repeating the allusion to Canada's official pioneer history, Allen stretches the
syllables of the term "pioneer" in performance to sharpen the irony. "Dying" to
pioneer metropolitan Canada, the speaker's Caribbean relative unwittingly fore-
tells her plausible fate in the constituency of urban "pioneers."
The speaker's attempt to intervene in the capitalist hegemony reflects
Gilroy's proposal that people "unable to control the social relations in which
they find themselves ... have shrunk the world to the size of their communi-
ties and begun to act politically on that basis. The politics of the urban social
movements supply an answer to the question of historical agency" ("Urban"
416). By drawing on Afro-Creole performance poetics and extending the cul-
tural signs of black diasporic history to a "foreign" audience, Allen exempli-
fies Gilroy's claim that "the history of the African diaspora supplies the
decisive symbolic core" for numerous social movements (418). While black
diasporic and other collective identities "spoken through 'race,' community
and locality are, for all their spontaneity, powerful means to coordinate action
and create solidarity" (418), "Unnatural Causes" cultivates a politically stra-
tegic community that is inclusive and flexible enough to include those who-
like homeless people-lie simultaneously at the margins and across the
borders of identity categories.
There is little doubt that Allen's heritage heightens her awareness of and


sensitivity to the condition of diverse forms of oppression. A vast literature
attests to the struggle that black Atlantic peoples have undergone in order to
imagine and establish homelands in which their ancestors were slaves and
migrants. The speaker responds to Canada's "unseen" and unsaid urban pio-
neers through a critique of metropolitan urban ecology that resonates with
Richard Sennett's argument:

Urban spaces take form largely from the way people experience their own
bodies. For people in a multi-cultural city to care about one another... we
have to change the understanding we have of our own bodies. We will
never experience the difference of others until we acknowledge the bodily
insufficiencies in ourselves. Civic compassion issues from that physical
awareness of a lack. (370)

As Gilroy suggests, it is a Caribbean sensibility developed by history rather
than by universal compassion that motivates black diasporic critiques of
urban North America. Allen's howling wind shakes the foundations of the
skyscraper in order to extend the symbolic force of the Caribbean hurricane
to the disenfranchised and abandoned peoples in the urban north.
Just as Allen transports the hurricane to colder terrains, Pamela Morde-
cai transplants Afro-Caribbean ways of (re)imagining homelands, roots, and
belonging. In her poem "My Sister Red" (Certifiable 65-67), Mordecai's
speaker deconstructs the definitions of native and immigrant, resident and
migrant. Mordecai, a Jamaican writer and scholar, has lived in Canada since
1993 and writes extensively on the insider-outsider's experience in metro-
politan Toronto. As an Afro-Creole of African, East Indian, and Jewish heri-
tage, Mordecai exemplifies the "prismatic vision" of Caribbean Creoleness in
her fiction and non-fiction work alike, which consistently address the com-
plexities of multicultural identity and encounter.8
The speaker of"My Sister Red" demonstrates "prismatic vision," where
"knowing is not necessarily ... a matter of isolating any single thing meant
or series-of-things meant ... it is inevitably aware at any given time of a
plurality of signifieds" ("Prismatic" 30). The speaker obtains prismatic vision
in the way she processes visual information, such as her cinematic visions of


a Native American "transient," as well as through her revision of Canadian
demographic categories and social discourse. When the speaker first espies a
young and pregnant Native American at a comer, she describes her "support-
ing" rather than leaning against-as do transients-the wall of a Jewish Com-
munity Centre. As the supporting pillar of this crossroads of diasporic
peoples-Jewish, Anglo-Canadian, Jamaican, and Native-"Red" is the ob-
scured cornerstone on which Canadian "minority cosmopolitanism" is subse-
quently built. Embracing her as "my sister Red," the speaker allies herself to
Red both as a woman and as a woman of colour. The Anglo-Canadian major-
ity construes a very different association: "Now many folk agree / is sake of
types like she / and types like me hijacking / the provincial treasury-" (67).
The speaker mocks the crude bureaucratic measure of minority "types" and
their presupposed behaviours. The homophony and visual apposition of "like
she" and "like me" parody the institutionalized mechanisms that underpin
prejudice, while the term "hijacking" discloses the hostility and rage toward
"types like" our speaker and Red that such categories underwrite.
Translating her patois into "common / parlance," the speaker wryly ob-
serves, "minorities / screw up the numbers" (67). The slogan encapsulates the
flat vision of statistics that convert human beings and their behaviours into
measurable data. Besides, she winks, the "migrant / family really does be plenty /
more than two point three" (67). "Prismatic" sight deflects and scatters percep-
tion, ceaselessly recasting angles, light, and surfaces, as does the speaker's se-
mantic dispute. Such vision corresponds to Enrique Dussel's concept of "other"
thinking, aptly paraphrased by Mignolo as a critique of reason that proceeds
"not by negating reason but by asserting the reason of the other-that is, by
identifying postcolonial reason as differential locus of enunciation" (117). Ac-
cording to the speaker's first-hand experience, the concepts of "migrant" and
"native" are fundamentally unstable. Are ancestral slaves "migrants" to the
New World? Is one a Jamaican or Haitian foreigner after emigrating to Toronto
or Montreal? Who are actually native Canadians? Whatever Red's dark skin and
other looks, the speaker points out, "the red girl? she / don't come from no-
where. / She was always here" (67). As Native Canadian or First Nations


woman, Red's dislocation is not that of the immigrant, for European colonizers
dislocated the indigenous peoples from their land and culture in order to relo-
cate and redefine themselves as North Americans proper. Red's homeland is
"nowhere," just as African slave descendants come from "nowhere."
From a prismatic perspective, what does not migrate, and who is in
charge? Along with peoples, technologies, products, and symbols, power and
profits imbue migration with shades of European and American imperialism:

My sister is higher
than jets kites and eagles
these hell-blazing days.
Gloss that all of the ways:

Too, my sister is wild
lit up bright with Labatt's
Red Stripe Red Deer Red Dog
any-old-craven canine
with scour-belly moonshine
for sale. (65-66)

The capacity of language for puns reflects how meaning migrates, and the
speaker employs puns and shifts word order to transmigrate value. Red is
"high" as jets, kites, and eagles. Rhetorically, series of three tend to ascend in
value (e.g. high, higher, highest), and thus to the eye of western capitalism,
these diverse technologies of aero-transport seem to appear in reverse order
of politico-economic significance: jets emblematize Western technological
prowess, kites are just children's toys, and eagles are merely an animal and
primitive spiritual symbol. However, Allen's strategy is not simply to reverse
the dominant perception, but to priviledge the speaker's perception: eagles are
highest, gliding far above aircraft. Capital falls to her rhetorical sword when
the speaker specifies that Red is "wild" and "lit up" precisely by a multina-
tional marketing competition between Canada's Labatt, Jamaica's Red Stripe
(owned by Guinness since 1993), and the US's Red Dog.
Her revision continues: "lit up" becomes "uplifted." The speaker re-
views Red through a historical prism, uplifting Red into the presence of her
ancestral spirits:


Uplifted, she is.
Yea, the last of her house
she is hearing the winds
swish-swish 'cross the plains
hundreds of acres of years.
She is seeing the mammoths
the mastodons die. She is
watching the lie of the land
as it shifts the drifts
of the dunes. Her body
a tepee the infant
asleep many moons. (66-67)

Migration lies even here, at the origins of time and space. The healing power
of West Indian culture migrates to Native peoples as the speaker applies time-
worn strategies for coping with the idea of belonging to "nowhere." For Afro-
Caribbean people, conceiving of the islands as homeland, rather than as lands
of suffering and death, transformed the archipelago into native land, as Ces-
aire described Martinique. For Sister Red and her peoples, the speaker in-
vokes Red's homeland-ancestral spirits, prehistoric animals, and
landscape-the sediment of contemporary Canada. Canada's geographic
boundaries shift across the horizon, while the vertical axis of time ascends and
descends: winds redraw "the lie of the land." Devoid of people, the envi-
sioned homeland invites us to repopulate it in ways alternative to its history.
Although "last of her house," Red exists through "hundreds of acres of years,"
because the line of ancestors and descendents is continuous. Red does not
"come from nowhere. / She always was here," and her unborn infant links the
past to the future.
The loss of African homelands, and the gain of lands that represent
three hundred years of brutality, led Afro-Caribbean people to see the journey
to native land as a form of migration.9 Canadian-Trinidadian poet and critic
Marlene Nourbese Philip affirms "i-maging" as an important step towards
cultural empowerment:

In her attempt to translate the i-mage into meaning and non-meaning, the
writer has access to a variety of verbal techniques and methods-com-
parison, simile, metaphor, metonymy, symbol, rhyme, allegory, fable,


myth-all of which aid her in this process. .. The power and the threat
of the artist, poet or writer lies in this ability to create new i-mages, i-
mages that speak to the essential being of the people among whom and for
whom the artist creates. If allowed free expression, these i-mages succeed
in altering the way a society perceives itself, and eventually, its collective
consciousness. (12)

By "i-maging" Native belonging through Caribbean practices of symbol and
metaphor, the speaker reveals how migration as event and episteme might
provide the grounds for transcultural affiliation and collaboration.
Afro-Creole practices have responded to colonization and decoloniza-
tion by envisioning prismatic, migratory forms of agency, and the success of
these practices has been substantially theorized in post-colonial criticism.
Bhabha posits minority cosmopolitanism as a multicultural "strategic identi-
fication" based on an aspiration toward "ethical life in the register of everyday
communality" ("Minority Culture" pt. 2). Questions nonetheless arise regard-
ing the ethical force of "strategic identification" and "everyday communality"
if they remain mechanisms of individual awareness and transformation, which
his theorization implies. In contradistinction, by translating vernacular modes
across cultural and national boundaries, our black diasporic speakers enact
vernacular cosmopolitanism and point to its emergence in the crossing. The
black experience of migration from Africa to and throughout Europe and the
Americas provides a blueprint for transcultural affiliation and socio-political
coalition. The site of intersecting cultural practices is a "rainbowed" one
whose arc, we might say, depends on the light and the weather.


1. See Mordecai's dissertation, "Prismatic Vision: Aspects of Imagery,
Language, and Structure in the Poetry of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek
Walcott," for a full treatment of prismatic vision.

2. For recent examples, see Breckenridge et al., Cosmopolitanism; and Cheah
and Robbins, Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation.


3. Conceptualizations of identity as fluid, unstable, and syncretic have
been variously called "diasporic," "hybrid," locationall," "relational,"
"creole" among other terms. See Bemab6, Chamoiseau, and Confiant,
Eloge de la Crdolite; Bhabha, "Minority Culture and Creative Anxiety"
and "The Vernacular Cosmopolitan"; Boyce Davies, Black Women, Writing,
and Identity; S. Friedman, Mappings; Gilroy, Against Race; and Glissant,
Introduction ca une poetique du divers.
4. Re-Inventing Britain: A Forum was sponsored by the British Council and
chaired by Stuart Hall. The forum, which took place in London in March
1997, brought together scholars and creative artists who explore cross-cultural
identities in their work. The proceedings were subsequently published online
on the British Council website.
5. Louise Bennett, who resided in Britain for a period of time, coined this
phrase as the title of a poem in which she critiques post-independence naivete.
6. Johnson 172. See also Ian Baucom for his study in which he demonstrates
how "Englishness" was defined according to essentialized ethnic traits. The
impetus to define national identity arose from Britain's imperialist conquests.
7. I must credit Nina Shevchuk-Murray for raising this point in a conversation
about "informal public spheres."
8. "Prismatic" 30. For other views of creole epistemologies see Bemab6,
Chamoiseau, and Confiant, Eloge de la Creolite; Boyce Davies, Black
Women, Writing, and Identity; Brathwaite, Development of Creole Society;
and Glissant, Introduction a une poetique du divers.
9. On the two-fold value of landscape/migration, see Benitez-Rojo, The
Repeating Island; Boyce Davies, Black Women, Writing, and Identity; Philip,
She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks; and Walcott, "The Antilles,
Fragments of Epic Memory."


Allen, Lillian. Conditions Critical. Audiocassette. Toronto: Verse to Vinyl,
--. "Dub Community: Lillian Allen with Women Ah Run Tings." Interview
by Claudia McKoy. Eye Weekly 3 November 1999.>.
Baucom, Ian. Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of
Identity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.


Benitez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the
Postmodern Perspective. Trans. James Maraniss. Durham, NC:
Duke University Press, 1992.
Bennett, Louise. Selected Poems. Kingston, Jamaica: Sangster's, 1982.
Bemab6, Jean, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphael Confiant. Eloge de la
Crdolite. Trans. M.B. Taleb-Khyar. Bilingual ed. Paris: Gallimard,
Bhabha, Homi K. "Minority Culture and Creative Anxiety." Reinventing
Britain. British Studies. The British Council. Proceedings of
the 1997 Reinventing Britain Conference Online.>.
--. "The Vernacular Cosmopolitan." Voices of the Crossing: The Impact
of Britain on Writers from Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa. Ed.
Ferdinand Dennis and Naseem Khan. London: Serpent's Tail,
2000. 133-142.
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. The Development of Creole Society in
Jamaica: 1770-1820. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.
--. "History of the Voice." Roots. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
1993. 259-304.
Breckenridge, Carol A., Sheldon Pollock, Homi K. Bhabha, and Dipesh
Chakrabarty, eds. Cosmopolitanism. Durham: Duke University
Press, 2002.
Breeze, Jean "Binta." The Arrival ofBrighteye and Other Poems.
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe, 2000.
--. Spring Cleaning. London: Virago, 1992.
Cheah, Pheng, and Bruce Robbins, eds. Cosmopolitics: Thinking and
Feeling beyond the Nation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1998.
Davies, Carole Boyce. Black Women, Writing and Identity: Migrations of
the Subject. London: Routledge, 1994.
Friedman, Jonathan. "Global Crises, the Struggle for Cultural Identity
and Intellectual Porkbarrelling: Cosmopolitans versus Locals,
Ethnics and Nationals in an Era of De-hegemonisation." Debating
Cultural Hybridity: Multi-Cultural Identities and the Politics of
Anti-Racism. Ed. Pnina Werbner and Tariq Modood. London: Zed,
1997. 70-89.
Friedman, Susan Stanford. Mappings: the Locations ofFeminism in the
Borderlands. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998.
Gilroy, Paul. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color
Line. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2000.
--. "Urban Social Movements, Race, and Community." Colonial Discourse
and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. Ed. Patrick Williams and


Laura Chrisman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
Glissant, Edouard. Introduction a une poetique du divers. Montreal:
University of Montreal Press, 1995.
Hall, Stuart. "Old and New Identities, Old and New Ethnicities." Culture,
Globalization, and the World System. Ed. Anthony D. King. 2nd ed.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. 41-69.
Johnson, Carol. "The Dilemmas of Ethnic Privilege: A Comparison of
Constructions of 'British', 'English' and 'Anglo-celtic' Identity
in Contemporary British and Australian Political Discourse."
Ethnicities 2.2 (2002):163-188.
Mignolo, Walter. Local Histories / Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern
Knowledges, and Border Thinking. Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 2000.
Mordecai, Pamela. Certifiable and Other Poems. Fredericton, New
Brunswick: Goose Lane, 2001.
--. "Prismatic Vision: Aspects of Imagery, Language, and Structure in the
Poetry of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott." Diss. U of West
Indies-Mona, Jamaica, 1997.
Philip, Marlene Nourbese. She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks.
Charlottetown, PEI: Ragweed, 1989.
Ramazani, Jahan. The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Sennett, Richard. Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western
Civilization. New York: Norton, 1996.
Walcott, Derek. "The Antilles, Fragments of Epic Memory: The 1992 Nobel
Lecture." World Literature Today 67.2 (1993): 261-267.

Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2006. Pp. 368. US$24.95 hc; $13.95 pb.


In her most recent novel, Saving the World, Julia Alvarez revisits the inter-
twined themes of home, family, community, displacement, exile, and loss.
Like so many other writers of the Caribbean diaspora, Alvarez has a complex
relationship with home and homeland, and her serial examination of these
themes in her fiction reflects her own ambivalent relationship with the home
that is left behind through exile, as well as with the home that is adopted in its
place. The turbulent, multi-faceted expression of home and belonging (or
unbelonging) as experienced by Alma and Isabel, the co-protagonists of Sav-
ing the World, is consistent with representations of home in Alvarez's earlier
work. In this bipartite novel, the narrative focuses on the parallel lives of
Alma and Isabel and their overlapping experience of displacement and loss,
and articulates a sense of what Brian Stock in The Implications of Literacy
calls "textual community" (329). As in her other work, both fictional and
autobiographical, Alvarez suggests that there is an important relationship be-
tween home and text, or between a sense of belonging and the acts of reading
and writing. To that end, she presents Isabel's story as the means of addressing
constructively, if not resolving completely, Alma's profound sense of dis-
placement and disconnection.

MaCombre 9 (2007): 88-93


Alma Huebner is a contemporary novelist whose work has ground to a
halt due to writer's block. Her life is unravelling through a series of crises,
both professional and personal. Her counterpart is Isabel Sendales y G6mez
(or Isabel L6pez Gandalla or Isabel Sendalla y L6pez-there is uncertainty
about her identity), a smallpox survivor who lived in Spain two hundred years
earlier. In one of the narrative strands, Isabel is the woman who accompanies
Don Francisco Xavier Balmis, a Spanish medical altruist, along with a band
of young orphan boys that they have assembled, on a voyage from Spain to
the Philippines by way of the Caribbean and Mexico. Their goal is to save the
world (or at least Spain's colonial populations) from the scourge of smallpox,
and the boys are Balmis's live carriers of the vaccine. Like Alma, Isabel is a
storyteller and writer, as well as the chronicler of the voyage.
Alma discovers Isabel's story while doing research for the novel she
cannot seem to bring herself to finish. Thus, we "read" through Alma's eyes
the story of the loss of Isabel's family to smallpox, her work in an orphanage,
and the challenges and uncertainties of her voyage as she leaves behind a
homeland that is no longer home. In her notebook, Isabel writes about the
special challenges faced by a female chronicler in the early nineteenth cen-
tury: before she can sequester herself in her quarters to write down her
thoughts like her male counterparts on the ship, she is expected to attend to
the many needs of "her boys" first. She also has her work interrupted by the
constant need to mediate or intervene diplomatically between a headstrong
Don Francisco and the hostile world. Alvarez presents her as the spiritual
heart and driving force, not only of the voyage, but also of the novel.
As the narrative progresses, the twin stories of Alma and Isabel begin
to converge. Frustrated by her persistent inability to write, Alma turns to Isa-
bel's story as a "lifeline" (327), a source of refuge as well as inspiration, and
finds that the story she really wants to write (or retell) is not the novel her
publisher has contracted and paid her for but, rather, that of her nineteenth-
century counterpart, Isabel. Concurrent with this realization is the growing
conviction that Isabel's is, in fact, "a story that is not just a story, her own and
not her own" (362). This connection goes beyond the simple recognition of a


sympathetic, kindred spirit; here, there is a blurring of boundaries and identi-
ties. By the end of the novel, Alma speaks of having Isabel "inside her" (363)
and describes her act of reading Isabel's story in terms of "when she leaves
herself behind and joins Isabel" (327). In a key moment of crisis, Alma even
goes as far as to reinvent / rechristen herself as "Isabel" (273).
This interlacing of parallel storylines that move between the past and the
present is a narrative strategy seen elsewhere in Alvarez's work, such as in her
novel In the Name ofSalome (2000). This parallelism of lives and periods can
be understood as Alvarez highlighting the act of writing as a recycling process
in which what precedes is reused, rewritten, and revised. Alvarez links her own
identity as a writer and her writing to the literary past and the texts she con-
sumed as a young reader (Something to Declare 167-169). There is another kind
of parallelism at work in Alvarez's work in general in that there are also sig-
nificant similarities between the author and her fictional characters. In Saving
the World, these are clear similarities between Alma and Alvarez. Alvarez links
her characters to herself in overt and subtle ways, articulating her own anxieties
in those of her characters. Both are part of the Caribbean diaspora-Dominican-
born but living in the United States. Both have an ambivalent relationship with
that Dominican home. Both are married to white American men. Both women
are established Vermont-based writers whose strongly expressed conviction that
Vermont is home is palpably shaded by doubt and the nagging suspicion that
perhaps their connection to the place is tenuous or illusory, that its status as
"home" is far from stable or guaranteed as a foundation in their lives. This doubt
seems to be a part of the "peppery anxious feeling that she has truly lost her
way" (1) that Alvarez projects on to Alma.
If, as Alvarez claims in her collection of autobiographical essays Some-
thing to Declare (1998), home is where the writing desk is (190), then does
an interruption in the flow of words call that claim to home into question? As
Alma's writer's block is drawn out over time, developing from a mild annoy-
ance into a source of panic, she begins to feel disoriented and disconnected.
As she reads a faxed message that amounts to an ultimatum from her agent
regarding a deadline she cannot meet, Alma is overcome with anxiety and the


feeling of being "adrift in purposelessness, self-doubt, second-guessing, all
the ills attendant to petite souls in crisis" (134). Fortunately, Alma's version
of home is also grounded in her connection to the people that surround her.
Yet here, too, she is in crisis. Throughout the novel, the fragility of that sense
of home is felt in the fragility of love, of relationships, and of life, and in the
mortality of those who constitute the foundations of her sense of belonging.
She asks herself what will happen when those people are gone, and then at-
tempts in vain to redirect her thoughts from those "losses that lie ahead" (15).
Meanwhile, Alma's motherland, the Dominican Republic, is more remote
than ever and becomes an increasingly hostile place for her. It is not just a ques-
tion of a cultural disconnect or an alien landscape symbolizing both a homeland
lost to the past and not belonging in the present. The "DR" becomes a physically
dangerous place that she avoids for as long as possible. While Alma's husband
Richard Huebner goes off to "save the world" in that very place-the alien
homeland-by heading up a humanitarian and pharmaceutical research effort
there, Alma chooses to stay behind in Vermont to write; or, rather, to read as she
attempts to work through her writer's block. Illustrative of the novel's parallel
structure, Richard's humanitarian efforts and AIDS research in the Dominican
Republic are oddly reminiscent of Don Francisco's voyage to that same region
(Puerto Rico and Cuba) two centuries earlier. It is also significant that Alma
would rather follow Isabel on her own textual voyage than put Isabel's example
into practice and physically accompany Richard on his voyage.
Alma's aversion to her old homeland is matched by and juxtaposed with
her devotion to text and specifically the text of Isabel's story, which comes to
function as a kind of "homeland" for her. As the physical world becomes in-
creasingly antagonistic, Alma turns with greater urgency to text-to her read-
ing and writing, or the idea of writing, if not the actual act-in order to
reground herself. One might call the product of her efforts a textual commu-
nity, and quite plausibly an intertextual one as well, as it depends on the same
array of idiosyncratic links between readers, writers, and texts that are char-
acteristic of intertextual networks. Here Alvarez returns to a theme previously
developed in earlier work, such as How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents


(1991): that home might be nowhere more available or accessible than in
texts. As she insists in a 1997 interview, the books she read as a girl became
her "portable homeland" ("Conversation" 32).
In Saving the World, the "textual community" plays surrogate and fills
the vacuum created by the loss of home, family, community, and other an-
chors of belonging. For example, as Alma ponders her own losses, lines of
poetry by Emily Dickinson that she had memorized but not comprehended as
a young student return to the foreground of memory to comfort her (316).
However, the focal point of Alma's textual search for connection or commu-
nity is the story of Isabel, which forms the second narrative in this antiphonal
novel. The interstices between these two women's lives and their textual
points of contact seem to fascinate Alvarez in much the same way that other
in-between spaces (between individual lives, communities, nations, lan-
guages, cultures, periods in history) constitute alluring points of focus else-
where in her body of work. That liminal space is disturbing and disorienting
for Alvarez as well as for the characters she creates (Yolanda Garcia, for ex-
ample, from How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and its 1997 companion
novel iYo!), just as it is for so many other displaced authors; yet it became the
fertile ground of literary production as she matured from a ten-year-old po-
litical exile into an established writer. From these interstices, what Silvio Si-
rias calls the "hyphens of human existence" (6), come hybrid combinations
that are "strange and wonderful and painful and conflicting" (Alvarez, "Clean
Windshield" 141). This is the same kind of fertile threshold space that Alvarez
indicates exists between Alma and Isabel.
It is significant that Alma has been writing under the nom de plume
Fulana de Tal, which translates as "nobody" or "so-and-so" (Saving the World
9). Just as Alma decides that "Fulana de Tal is Dead" (22) and determines to
write as herself, she suddenly has nothing to say. Here again we see Alma
taking refuge in Isabel's story and, more importantly, in her identity. Alma
seems to echo the efforts of Camilla from In the Name of Salomd who, in
juxtaposing her own story with that of her co-protagonist, weaves the two
lives together "as strong as a rope" (335). She then uses that double-stranded


rope to pull herself out of her own despair and self-doubt. Towards the middle
of Saving the World, Fulana de Tal's identity is conflated with Isabel's. Later
still, as she attempts to negotiate a string of crises, Alma coaches herself by
saying, "Make believe you are Isabel," and this has the desired effect as "sur-
prisingly, she does feel calmer" (225). Alma tells herself that this other story
has taken over her life at precisely the point of collapse when her own world
seems to be falling to pieces (243). More than simply an avenue of inspiration
to lead her out of her writer's block, this other story is the means of reconnect-
ing Alma to what has been lost. This connection through text restores the
sense of belonging or community that has been interrupted and suspended and
recurs throughout the latter part of the novel in the form of a mantra with
minor variations: "You are not alone. We are here together" (297) and "I am
with you. We are here together" (330). Here, in the mirror of her fiction, is the
community that Alvarez herself finds in her own reading of William Carlos
Williams, Maxine Hong Kingston, and others (Something to Declare 167-
168). It is a textual home or "comunidad in the word" (169).


Alvarez, Julia. "A Clean Windshield." Interview by Bonnie Lyons and Bill
Oliver. Passion and Craft: Conversations with Notable Writers.
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998. 128-144.
--. "Conversation with Julia Alvarez." Interview by Heather Rosario-
Sievert. Review: Latin American Literature and Arts (Spring
1997): 31-37.
--. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. 1991. Toronto: Penguin, 1992.
--. In the Name ofSalome. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2000.
--. Saving the World. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 2006.
--. Something to Declare. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1998.
---. Yo! Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin, 1997.
Sirias, Silvio. Julia Alvarez: A Critical Companion.Westport, CT:
Greenwood, 2001.
Stock, Brian. The Implications ofLiteracy: Written Language and Models
of interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. Princeton
University Press, 1983.

Toronto: Insomniac, 2006. Pp. 208. C$21.95 pb.


Marie-Celie Agnant is one of the many Haitian writers-and one of the few
women-who have contributed to the substantial body of black francophone
writing in Quebec. Like many other Haitian Quebecois writers, Agnant expe-
rienced the Duvalier dictatorship. She arrived in Montreal in 1970 and has
lived there since. She has worked as a teacher, translator, and writer of poetry,
short stories, novels, children's books, and essays. Her first novel, La Dot de
Sara (1995), followed on her 1994 poetry collection titled Balafres (1994). In
La Dot de Sara, Agnant draws on her research involving senior Haitian
women in Montreal. The novel portrays the intergenerational pleasures and
tensions of cultural interaction and oral transmission under the pressures of
assimilation. Those works were followed by a collection of short stories, Le
Silence comme le sang (1997) and several children's books. In 2001, Agnant
published her second novel, Le Livre d'Emma. With the translation of this
work as The Book ofEmma, both Zilpha Ellis and Insomniac Press have ren-
dered an invaluable service by making at least one of the works of this impor-
tant Haitian Qudb6cois author (who has received mostly francophone critical
attention to date') more widely accessible to anglophone audiences.

MaComere 9 (2007): 94-97