Emerging Scholars of Caribbean
Literatures, Languages and Cultures
SARGASSO 2002, II
NEW CENTURY/NEW HORIZONS:
EMERGING SCHOLARS OF CARIBBEAN
LITERATURES, LANGUAGES, AND CULTURES
U:^.4.o .,. 0 i-LORIDA
Sargasso 2002, II
New Century/New Horizons:
Emerging Scholars of Caribbean Literatures, Languages, and Cultures
Sargasso, a journal of Caribbean literature, language, and culture edited at the
University of Puerto Rico, publishes critical essays, interviews, book reviews,
and some poems and short stories. Sargasso particularly welcomes material
written by and/or about the people of the Caribbean region and its diaspora.
Essays and critical studies should conform to the style of the MLA Handbook.
Short stories should be no more than 2,500 words in length, and poems should
be kept to no more than twenty to thirty lines. All correspondence must include
S.A.S.E. For electronic submission, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mailing Address: Sargasso
P.O. Box 22831, UPR Station
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-2831
The Ph.D. Program in Caribbean Literature and Linguistics, Department of
English, College of Humanities, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, Puerto
Rico publishes Sargasso. It also hosts the annual Caribbean Doctoral Studies
Symposium, an extension of the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Caribbean 2000
Project, 1994-1999, and frequently publishes papers presented as part of the
Lowell Fiet, Editor-in-Chief
This issue edited by:
Elsa Luciano Feal and Sally Everson, Editors
Don E. Walicek, David Lizardi, and Raphael Dalleo, Co-Editors
Antonio Garcia Padilla, President of the University of Puerto Rico
Gladys Escalona de Motta, Chancellor, Rio Piedras Campus
Jos6 Luis Vega, Dean of Humanities
Cover: "Saqra", Paucartambo, Cusco, Per(i. Photo by Lowell Fiet.
Layout: Marcos Pastrana
Opinions and views expressed in Sargasso are those of the individual authors and are
not necessarily shared by Sargasso's Editorial Committee. All rights return to the
authors. Copies of Sargasso 2002, II, as well as previous issues, are on deposit in the
Library of Congress. Filed May 2003.
LATIN AMU -LECTION
UNMVE-B. V FLORiDA
Introduction .......... .......... .. .... ................... vii
The First Tim e She Saw Snow ..................................... ................. 1
From the Bedroom to the Roof, Going Up the Spiral Stair Case,
Two Lovers, Abolition Day 2002 .................... ... .................... 5
Elizabeth Edla Davis
"and you can drink the water": Caribbean Landscape
in Cliff and Marshall, Fodor's and Frommer's .............................. 7
Kim Dismont Robinson
Taming the Tempest: Locating Bermuda on the Literary Map..... 21
Shaping a Symbol: Schwarz-Bart's Visions and Revisions
of His Guadeloupian Heroine in La Mulatresse Solitude ............. 31
Joseph T. Farquharson
Literary Revolution and Decolonisation in
Louise Bennett's Poetry .......................................... ..................... 45
Richard J. File-Muriel
Defining the Target Language in Language Genesis ..................... 57
Speak of the Advent of New Light: Jamaican
Proverbs and Anancy Stories .................................. .................... 75
vi TABLE CONTENTS
Elena Machado Sdez
The Routes of Global Nostalgia in Cristina Garcia's
Dream ing in Cuban ............................ ...................... 91
Modernism in the basement: subversive discourse
in Wide Sargasso Sea.................... ............................................... 105
Alison J. Van Nyhuis
Nationalistic Myopia: Pocomania's Reflection
and Projection of the Jamaican Nation.......................................... 115
Contando Contigo: Yohamna De Corcho
and African-Cuban Hip Hop Fiction ......................... ................... 129
A New World Order by Caryl Phillips............................................. 143
Sally Everson ..................................... ....................................................
Caribbean Masculinities: Working Papers edited
by Rafael L. Ramirez, Victor I. Garcia-Toro,
and Ineke Cunningham. ..................................... 146
Boricua Literature: A Literary History of the Puerto Rican
Diaspora by Lisa Sanchez-Gonzalez ................................................ 149
The Fisher King by Paule Marshall .......................... .................... 152
Don E. Walicek
The Construction and Representation of Race and Ethnicity
in the Caribbean and the World by Mervyn C. Alleyne ................. 154
List of Contributors ................ ..................................................... 159
Our "Emerging Scholars" editorial board consists primarily of a group
of students from the doctoral program in Caribbean Studies in the
English Department at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. From
the beginning our main purpose was to recognize and promote work
done by graduate students in Caribbean literature and linguistics. We
received many provocative submissions and were excited to see that
our call for papers traveled around the world, prompting responses
from the USA, Canada, Great Britain and Europe.
Deciding what papers to publish was not an easy task-we certainly
battled over some that were difficult to turn down, but a choice had to
be made in the end. We wrestled with some essays because of what
some read as the politics behind a piece or because one reader claimed
an essay lacked focus while another found its wider emphasis
fascinating. These debates about which ones to include challenged us
to re-read, to reconsider in a new light some texts which we had at first
either embraced or altogether rejected. Though challenging at times,
this process was filled with refreshing moments and has ultimately
proven to be encouraging and rewarding. Occasionally we turned to
the authors for clarification about key points in their essays and were
always impressed by their professionalism and their openness to
explanation and dialogue. Thus, we are proud to present a truly
collaborative collection of work representing the efforts of emerging
scholars from many parts of the world.
Our contributors have turned to the novel, theatre, poetry, and
language for their research. They deal with the works of established
authors like Una Marson and Louise Bennett and with the more
contemporary like Michelle Cliff and Cristina Garcia, showing the
diversity of thought and interest among the emerging scholars and
presenting what we hope are fresh new insights and perspectives into
the work by Caribbean writers. The poetry, essays, and reviews
viii EDITORIAL NOTE
presented here are wide-ranging yet overlapping in theme; nevertheless,
each piece exhibits the disparate ways in which we might examine the
Caribbean from our own unique perspectives.
Though many of the works that follow can be considered innovative
and interdisciplinary in nature, as a whole they do not reflect our
original desire to bridge work in literature and linguistics. An
unfortunate, yet somewhat familiar, surprise was that few papers were
submitted in the area of linguistics. Consequently we are able to include
only one paper by a linguist. The sharp boundaries imposed by our
respective disciplines and training remain evident.
Writing now we are reminded again that scholars have varying ideas
and beliefs about human nature, society, art, and academia. What
seems most contentious at times is our role, the role of emerging
scholars, in each of these realms. Should our conceptions of what
Caribbean Studies is as well as what we think it should be influence
the questions we ask? Do both of these factors influence how aLl of us
frame our work, select and examine material and draw our conclusions?
Should one vision be weighted more than another? We hope that you
will keep in mind some of these questions as you read the works we
have selected for this volume.
Thanks to all of those who submitted their work, and to the many
who helped with this project along the way. We are especially grateful
to Irina Rodriguez, Edgardo Perez Montijo, and Maria Cristina Rodriguez
for their input at crucial moments. A special thanks to Dr. Lowell Fiet
for his help and vote of confidence. We hope all of you enjoy this issue
The Editorial Committee
Raphael Dalleo, Sally Everson,
David Lizardi, Elsa Luciano Feal,
Don E. Walicek
The first time she saw snow
The first time
She saw snow
Between the Man Ray
And the Monet
She turned to her not-yet-lover
Soon to be ex-lover
And she said
Like glove and coat
A word never much used
The kiss of O's on her lips
Made him smile
And later it would find them
In the Rite Aid
And more cigarettes
But for now
It found them
In Central Park West
Tasted like tin
Like Irish whiskey
Not yet drunk
Like last night's insistent "please
Let's make love"
2 LYNETTE CINTRON
He pretending she was all
She pretending all
She had seen snow before
On the back of a white bear
On the eyelash of a monkey
Venturing into the cold
On the pretty pink cap
Of her mother
And on her own red boots
She was four
And it was the Bronx zoo
But she had never
Seen snow like this
Now that she had nipples
That hardened and scrunched
Against the wool of her sweater
That snow had not melted
On the ground at her feet
Nor into wetness
Between her thighs
As it now did
This was not
Pink suede gloved hand
Nor was it
Old gray wool
It was slick black leather
Tight around her
Walking Central Park West
Near Lincoln Center
Not with hot cocoa
But a single malt no ice
And a not-yet-lover
Soon to be ex-lover
Pretending she was all
While she just pretended all
It had started in Old San Juan
Sitting on a centuries old wall
3 o'clock in the morning
He had wanted a kiss
And she said no
She had wanted more
He left the West Indies
Not before inviting her
And his New York number
Written with haste
Weighed her down
But she duly went home
Who rode waves during the days
Who waited for her
Two blocks, a cobblestone away
She had wanted more
The next day
The rider of waves was gone.
So they settled
Into a Winter Thing
Not yet lovers
Leaving the past in
Warm islands of dreams
Soon to be ex-lovers
She will later
Return to a blast
Of humid warm
Puerto Rican air
And sit by the bay
Composing him a letter
With the sweet tingle
Of an early morning San Juan breeze
Where before the sun rose in January
It felt like April in New York
4 LYNETTE CINTRON
She will write him a couple more notes
What she will most remember
Is the snow
The fireplace burning
When he left
Of watching his back
As he walked away
Having that tiny flat
On West 11h for herself
Walking alone while he slept
Downtown at 4 in the morning
In her own skin
Listening to Jerry Gonzalez
While having a drink
Table for one please
Going to that Harlem jazz bar
He had warned her not to go alone
Her flight home
On that window seat
As Old San Juan became new
Under the fullest moon
And thinking of the letters
She would write
Washington Square Park
While she drank coffee
From the mountains of her island
And pretended no more.
Under naked feet
Left hand grips the black iron railing
Right hand holds berries
In a white handkerchief
On the curve of the shell
A sliver of yellow paint
Peels, grazes an arm
I lean over the railing
Look at the crumpled bed
Entangled sheets with fading hibiscus
Behind you I ask:
"If you were to jump into my bed,
Would you bounce?"
6 LYNETTE CINTRON
"Open the door"
"No other door!"
Creak of rusted bolts
Smell of salt and Sargasso
Of brick and cooling concrete
Smokiness of a neighbor's incense
Like ripening guava and guanabana
Wind from the Atlantic
Curls a top this hill... this home....this roof
On cobblestone 208.
You swing on a hammock
Dream sweet coconut dreams
It reaches us...
tun tfin... un belen
tun tun... Cortijo... tun timn Ismael...
Picked up by the ocean's wind
By way of the bay's breeze
Carried up from the plaza
Where our town remembers
The bomba from Loiza Aldea and San Ant6n
The beat in our blood...
I dance barefoot around you.
"and you can drink the water":
Caribbean Landscape in Cliff and
Marshall, Fodor's and Frommer's
he landscape of the Caribbean pervades Paule Marshall's
Daughters and Michelle Cliff's No Telephone to Heaven,
functioning not only as a vividly depicted setting but also as a
major driving force behind the action of the two novels. Marshall's
Ursa MacKenzie and Cliff's Clare Savage are both Caribbean expatriates
(from the fictional island of Triunion and Jamaica, respectively) who
are, finally, unable to escape the pull of their homelands. In each novel,
what finally causes the protagonist to return to her emotionally charged
place of origin is the need to defend the land, its uses and its
representations against (mis)appropriation by the first world, a
(mis)appropriation predicated largely on tourism.
Dean MacCannell writes extensively and insightfully on tourism, but
his representation of tourism, which is overwhelmingly sympathetic
to the tourist, focuses primarily on the conflict between the tourist
and the elite traveler. The position of the toured is mentioned only
briefly, and MacCannell insists that the places toured, particularly those
in "marginal economies," welcome tourists (or at least tourist dollars).
He locates anti-tourist sentiment only among urbanites and "radicals":
A pro-tourist stance is held by many planners of marginal economies
who look to tourism as a new way of making money. An anti-tourist
stance is held by urban and modernized liberals and third world
radicals who question the value of touristic development for the local
people. They point out how tourism irreversibly alters local tradition,
and the capital that is generated is siphoned off by the large
corporations (the hotel chains and airlines) and returned to its point
of origin in the rich countries and cities.
8 ELIZABETH DAVIS
Although MacCannell briefly mentions the reasons behind this
significant objection to tourism, in the discussion that follows, he erases
the objection of "third world radicals" that tourism exploits the third
world in order to make money for the first world and focuses instead
on the objections of the elitist anti-tourist travelers who object to
tourism simply because increased crowding and commercialism spoil
the sights for them (164). This very brief mention of the perspective
of the toured serves only to reinforce MacCannell's positive view of
tourism and to support his larger project of interrogating the experience
of the tourist.
M. Jacqui Alexander interrogates much more thoroughly the effects
of tourism on the third world, exposing tourism as part of the neo-
imperialist exploitation of the third world through the IMF, World Bank
The contemporary version of development now called structural
adjustment, finds expression in a powerful...alliance among foreign
multinational lending agencies...the American state and neocolonial
regimes... In particular, the programmes have been organized to
reduce local consumption by devaluing currency, increasing potential
tax holidays for foreign multinational corporations, expanding
investment in tourism, dismantling state-owned enterprises, and
curtailing the scope of state bureaucratic power by reducing the
workforce and reducing the social wage... (Not Just 16)
She goes on to debunk the myth that tourist sites need tourist dollars
in order to survive, revealing the tourist's complicity in the exploitation
of the third world:
The mass production of the imperial tourist psyche rests in the power
of an ideology wherein an entire population (particularly women)
could be mobilized into service on one's behalf; the belief that the
foreign currency one provides is indispensable to the operation of
the economy and vital for the very population which services one.
This produces psychic occlusions of different kinds... [T]he extent
to which the state disciplines the population to ensure that it works
to make things "Better in the Bahamas" for tourists, and not
themselves, is [never] made visible. (Erotic 94)
Alexander's work indicates that regardless of the way the tourist
experiences his or her tourism, he or she is contributing to the
exploitation of the third world.
"AND YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER" 9
Daughters and No Telephone to Heaven clearly articulate Alexander's
view of tourism rather than MacCannell's. I intend to explore their
critiques of tourism by examining the representations of the Caribbean
in tourist literature and its connection to the appropriation of the
landscape by tourists and filmmakers in the two novels. I will further
articulate the ways in which the novels work against these
representations on two different levels: on the descriptive level,
Marshall's and Cliff's depictions of Triunion and Jamaica function as
correctives to tourist depictions, and on the narrative level, the two
protagonists defend the land against misappropriation by (re)inhabiting
Although tourist literature employs many strategies in order to
render the Caribbean more appealing, including depictions of the
"friendliness"' of the locals and the exciting but ideologically
neutralized colonial past, the most important feature of the tour guide
depiction of the Caribbean is the description of the land itself, which
focuses on rendering the landscape exotic/erotic, clean, and emptied
of local inhabitants. Caribbean Ports of Call 1998, a guide designed to
help cruise passengers plan their activities for their brief stopovers
on various Caribbean islands, is careful to characterize the various
destinations it recommends as "filled with the romance of a tropical
wilderness," emphasizing natural beauty and relying heavily on such
terms as "lush," "wild," and "tropical," in order to suggest an unspoiled
wilderness (126). The guide's brief description of the landscape in
Martinique is a particularly clear example of this idealizing, primitivizing
drive: "Martinique, is lush with wild orchids, frangipani, anthurium,
jade vines, flamingo flowers, and hundreds of hibiscus varieties. Trees
bend under the weight of tropical treats such as mangoes, papayas,
bright red West Indian cherries, lemons, and limes" (Ports of Call 137).
This emphasis on such sexually charged symbols as flowers and fruits,
particularly the "bright red West Indian cherries," the only fruit whose
appearance is so caressingly described, is very much in keeping with
the tradition of presenting landscape as eroticized and feminized. As
Alexander points out, this emphasis on the eroticized virgin landscape
is particularly significant for Caribbean tourism: "For the tourist, the
state-managed [semiotic] system adheres to the feminization of nature
See M. Jacqui Alexander, "Imperial Desire/Sexual Utopias: White Gay Capital
and Transnational Tourism." Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a
Transnational Age. Ed. Ella Shohat. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998. 299.
10 ELIZABETH DAVIS
through the symbols of unspoiled, virgin territory, waiting to be
transformed and possessed by imperial (heterosexual) design" (Erotic
90). This feminization of the landscape is apparent in the equation of
St. Lucia with Helen of Troy; according to Caribbean Ports of Call, the
island is "nicknamed 'the Helen of the West Indies' because of its natural
Alexander further explains that cleanliness is central to this
construction of an island paradise filled with natural beauty (Erotic
92-3), and, indeed, Frommer's online travel guide praises various
Jamaican beaches for their "crystal clear" and "clean" water and
describes the beaches at a resort in the Virgin Islands as "pristine."
The absence of garbage is obviously part of this idea of cleanliness,
but far more important to producing a "pristine" landscape is the
erasure of the people who live there and, especially, any evidence of
their poverty. Alexander explains, "There are no beggars or homeless
people in and around Nassau, for they might contaminate paradise;
none of the evidence of the sordid effects of economic decay that would
suggest that paradise was not paradise after all" (Erotic 93). This can
be seen in Frommer's advice about beaches in St. Martin. For one beach,
Frommer's suggests, "Weekdays are best, as many locals flock here on
weekends." In its description of another beach, the online guide hints
that the presence of locals means danger: "Don't leave any valuables
in your car, as many break-ins have been reported along this
occasionally dangerous stretch of highway." Removed from the
landscape, Caribbean people are relegated to such non-natural sites
as markets, where they are conflated with the sights and the wares
that tourists come to consume. Caribbean Ports of Call warns its readers,
"Be sure to ask before you aim a camera, and expect the subject of
your shot to ask for a tip," and informs them that "Jamaican artisans
express themselves in resort wear, hand-loomed fabrics, silk-screening,
wood carvings, and paintings" (54, 126). Frommer's online guide
reduces Jamaican women to their sewing skills, pointing out their utility
for tourists: "Jamaican women are known as good seamstresses and
they often make quite passable copies [of resort wear] based on the
works of top designers and sell them at a fraction of the original's price."
This reification of the Jamaican people, which equates them with the
objects they produce and sell, allows both guides to remove the people
from the "unspoiled virgin territory," leaving it free for the tourist to
inhabit, and replace them with things that tourists can buy.
The need to erase the people from the landscape in order to produce
a proper site of tourist consumption is depicted in both No Telephone
"AND YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER"
to Heaven and Daughters. In Cliff's novel, two filmmakers discuss the
need to get the Jamaicans off the beach:
"I found a location looks just like the fucking South of France, except
for all the black bums on the beach."
"They'll stay away for a per diem."
"Right. We have an island. Landscape. Extras up the ass." (203)
The producers successfully convert both the beach and its inhabitants
into commodities; they can take full possession of the beach in question
("We have an island. Landscape."), and the people they intend to
displace from the beach can be re-purchased in order to function as
silent additions to the ambiance ("extras") if necessary. Marshall's
text more explicitly connects the desire to erase unsightly inhabitants
from the landscape with the tourist industry. Astral Forde, who
manages a small hotel, is disgusted that tourists will have to see the
shantytown on Armory Hill:
The noise worse than Babylon, the kerosene lamps flickering in the
jumble of scrap houses, the stink of the open drains and the WC's
that's nothing but holes cover over in the ground. Right on the main
road now! The tourists have to drive past it on their way from the
airport and then back again when they're leaving. It's a wonder the
government ain't shame.. .(217)
For Astral Forde, and others connected with tourism, the tragedy of a
place like Armory Hill is not its inhabitants' poverty and poor living
conditions, but the fact that such shantytowns detract from the pristine
natural beauty that tourists come to consume.
The descriptions of Triunion and Jamaica in Marshall and Cliff's
novels are careful to debunk the myths about the Caribbean people
and landscape found in tourist literature. The two works reveal that
tourist dollars do not improve the lives of the Caribbean people and
that the people certainly do not enthusiastically welcome tourism. In
No Telephone to Heaven, Cliff critiques the notion that tourist money
is good for Jamaica in a scene in which tourists toss coins from the
decks of cruise ships and watch delightedly as young boys dive into
the "bottle-green scummed-over water" to retrieve them. Here the
tourists are quite literally exchanging pennies for a degrading and
dangerous performance by the Jamaican children: "Some boys emerged
almost immediately, with coins grasped between their teeth or stuck
12 ELIZABETH DAVIS
into their cheeks, while others came up empty-mouthed. A few might
not come up, but no one was keeping track" (41). The coins in the
boys' mouths suggest that the sustenance that has essentially been
stolen from them by the tourists in the luxury cruise ships has been
replaced by a few coins, and the inequality of this exchange is
highlighted by the fact that some boys emerge "empty-mouthed" and
others drown while chasing after pennies. One man, the son of an
African studies professor, sums up the attitude of the Jamaicans toward
the tourists: "tourism is whorism, bredda" (22).
Daughters reveals the negative effects of tourism equally clearly.
Ursa's mother Estelle describes the government's tourist colony
scheme not in terms of some imaginary advantages that it will bring to
the people of Morlands, her husband's district and the intended
building site, but in terms of all the genuine improvements that it will
replace: "No experimental farm... No agricultural station. No small
farmer's cooperative such as your father and I talked about for years.
No model village, housing scheme or hospital. No cannery or sisal plant
or any other kind of factory or plant. Instead, Government Lands is to
be a playground for the Fortune 500 and friends." (Marshall 357)
Estelle's tirade echoes Alexander's argument that tourism is most
definitely not a blessing for third world economies and reveals that it
precludes genuine self-sufficiency by funneling land, energy, and funding
away from programs that would benefit the people of Triunion. Ursa
expresses these sentiments more succinctly when she and her friend
Viney encounter a beggar while visiting Triunion: "You never saw that
when I was small, Viney. That's what this government has come up
with by way of progress. That woman, the U.S. Navy and tourists."
(Marshall 107) Ursa's remark clearly links poverty with tourism and
neoimperialism backed, if necessary, by military force.
Perhaps the most powerful way in which Cliff and Marshall counter
tourist myths is through their depictions of the land itself. Both writers
include lush descriptions of Caribbean nature, particularly beaches,
but they manage to reclaim these spaces as Caribbean spaces to be
used by Caribbean people rather than mere empty places that can be
appropriated by foreigners. As one critic points out, the beach that
Ursa visits with her friend Viney is described in a way that "in many
ways mirrors a travel brochure depiction of the Caribbean, but Marshall
undercuts this easy 'paradise' association by providing in the next
paragraph an emblem of the island's historical past [a monument to
Will Cudjoe and Congo Jane, who led a slave revolt]" (Macpherson 89).
A more significant example of this sort of mirroring and undercutting
"AND YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER" 13
of tourist brochure description occurs when Ursa returns to this beach
(a favorite site of hers) several years later. Marshall describes the
deserted beach in terms that emphasize the cleanliness, emptiness,
and naturalness central to tourist guide descriptions: "And there it all
is as she emerges from the trees: the wide white-sand beach that follows
unerringly the curve of the bay, the overreaching sky that is absolutely
clear except for a ridge of clouds, left over from the rain, that can be
seen hovering along the horizon; and there's the wide, wide sea spread
before her." (Marshall 378) Even within this seemingly ideal tour book
description, however, Marshall plants the seeds of its undoing: this
beach is as Ursa sees it as she emerges from the trees. The apparently
empty beach is already inhabited by the Caribbean subject, and, as
this section of the novel is told from Ursa's perspective, it is actually
impossible to have the beach at all without her presence. Marshall
completes this process of replacing the Caribbean people who are
erased from the landscape in Caribbean Ports of Call in the very next
Not a soul in sight. The beach empty from one great wing of the bay
to the other. She's too late for the fishermen who left at dawn and too
early for the women who will come later in the morning to help with
the catch when the first boats return around noon. Tomorrow, Sunday,
will be another matter. People like peas on the beach from the time
God's sun rises. (Marshall 378)
This passage makes it clear that the emptiness is temporary and re-
inhabits the beach with the people of Triunion; in so doing, Marshall
changes the beach from a potential tourist site of natural beauty, which,
as we have seen, must be empty, to a local site in which people live
and perform their daily activities.
Cliff employs a similar strategy in No Telephone to Heaven. Clare
and her friend Harry/Harriet have a picnic at "the most beautiful beach
on the island," at which they consume fruits that they have gathered
from the pristine tropical landscape:
Not another human in sight, they spread their picnic on the thin strand.
The green coconuts, shot clean between the fronds, rained around
them, thumping and rolling on the sand. Harry/Harriet sliced two
open with his cutlass, and they poured rum into the sweet water....
Soon they would be covered with mango juice, salt water, and the
spicy oil of the meat. Resting from riding the breakers, warmed by
14 ELIZABETH DAVIS
their feast and the sun, they lay side by side under a sky thrilling in its
brightness. (Cliff 130)
This passage seems to describe the same sort of deserted tropical
landscape that offers the promise of erotic consumption to tourists;
however, Cliff employs this well-worn imagery in order to reverse it.
Clare and Harry/Harriet are not tourists but Jamaicans, and the beach
is deserted because it belongs to an American absentee landlord. The
picnic is thus a revolutionary act in which Jamaicans reclaim land that
has been misappropriated by an American. Cliff highlights the
revolutionary aspect of the picnic in her description of Harry/Harriet,
who gathers weapons in order to shoot down and open the coconuts:
"[H]e came back with a rifle and a box of shells, and a clean cutlass,
loaded down with armaments like a 'fairy guerilla,' he said" (Cliff 130).
The strategy of reclaiming the landscape by inhabiting it can best
be understood through Michel de Certeau's distinction between "place"
and "space." He suggests that "place" refers to a "distinct location"
and "implies an indication of stability," while "space" is "actuated by
the ensemble of movements deployed within it":
... [I]n relation to place, space is like a word when it is spoken, that is,
when it is caught in the ambiguity of an actualization, transformed
into a term dependent on many different conventions, situated as the
act of a present (or of a time), and modified by the transformation
caused by successive contexts, in contradistinction to the place, it
has none of the univocity or stability of a "proper." In short, space is a
practiced place. (117)
This distinction suggests a corresponding difference between the
brochures' depictions of the Caribbean and Marshall and Cliff's
depiction: tourist guides depict places while the two novelists depict
spaces. The places described in the tour guides must be empty and
stable so that they are available for the tourist to enact when he or she
disembarks from the cruise ship; this corresponds to Alexander's
explanation that tourist depictions rely on "symbols of unspoiled, virgin
territory, waiting to be transformed and possessed by imperial
(heterosexual) design" (Erotic 90). Marshall and Cliff, on the other hand,
depict inhabited and enacted spaces that are complete without the
tourist and are therefore not available to be appropriated for the
tourist's use. In light of this distinction, it comes as no surprise that
the strategy of inhabiting and using space is central to the revolutionary
"AND YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER" 15
strategy of both novels. As one critic notes in her discussion of No
Telephone to Heaven, "The land, community, culture, and self are
interrelated, and staying in or returning to the land is often resistance
to cultural oppression" (Toyosato 308).
When Ursa returns to Triunion, it is to defeat her father's plan to
build a resort on Government Lands, which will include the beach Ursa
loves and will preclude other projects that would benefit the people of
Morlands. The novel makes it clear that Ursa's return to Triunion, her
reinhabiting her place of birth, is the first and most important step in
preventing Government Lands from being turned into a tourist site:
Estelle said...in her letter. ". . .You have to come down here. .. .And
you have to come right awayf'....Ursa had read and reread the brief
letter any number of times, along with the page in the prospectus [for
the tourist resort] that had the bookmark, and while seated in her
darkened apartment on Tuesday she silently offered herself for
whatever would be required of her...."I'm here," she says and turns
her palms up and holds them out slightly as if waiting to receive her
orders in a sealed envelope. (Marshall 363)
This passage casts the return home as a revolutionary act; Ursa offers
her services with the assertion "I'm here," and this statement of
presence, of inhabiting space, turns her into a revolutionary, a key figure
in a secret plot "waiting to receive her orders in a sealed envelope."
Once Ursa returns, her role in this small revolution is simply to deliver
a copy of her father's prospectus to his opponent in the parliamentary
election so that the idealistic young politician Justin Beaufils can defeat
her father and continue Ursa's work of inhabiting the landscape in order
to protect it from misappropriation by tourists:
He and the wife was all the way down in Government Lands putting
up a trash house. They say they gon live there till the P and D Board
agrees to consult with the people in the district about the resort
scheme....They're calling on everybody in Morlands to do like them.
Mes amis, the resort scheme finish, oui, 'cause you know the white
people are not gon put their money in anything where there's all this
confusion. (Marshall 396)
The act of inhabiting the land, of enacting the space, is all that is
necessary to defeat the resort scheme. Beaufils and his wife are able
to claim Government Lands as a space for the people of Morlands and
16 ELIZABETH DAVIS
drive away the tourists simply by setting up camp on the beach; in
order to keep their land from being taken, the people of Morlands must
make their presence visible. If the Caribbean people cannot be erased
from the landscape, then it cannot be claimed as a tourist site.
For Clare in No Telephone to Heaven, reinhabiting her place of birth
is also an important part of resistance. A year or two after returning to
Jamaica, Clare allows a revolutionary group to use the land she has
inherited from her grandmother; together they reclaim the land from
the wilderness that has taken over, clearing the land with machetes
and using pigs to root up the stumps. They plant ganja to trade for
American guns and food to feed themselves and the poor people of the
neighborhood. In clearing the land, they leave some of the trees and
brush to hide their reinhabited space: "The soldiers left enough forest
alive so that they were not visible from the road which passed at the
foot of the hill....People of course knew someone was there, but they
were given to understand only that the granddaughter of Miss Mattie
had returned." (Cliff 11) They create a semblance of the unspoiled
virgin landscape touted by tourist books, but it is only an illusion.
Behind this facade of wilderness, revolutionaries are reclaiming the
land, using it to acquire the means to begin their own sort of guerilla
Once they acquire the necessary weapons, the revolutionaries
choose a rather unusual target for their attack: a movie set. This seems
at first to be a ludicrous and trivial choice, but the filmmakers are
intimately involved in creating the images that fuel touristic
exploitation. A "Special to The New York Times" describing the site
chosen for the film bears a remarkable likeness to the depictions found
in tour guides:
Jamaica, which is about an hour and a half south of Miami by jet, is a
little smaller than Connecticut and has some of the most varied terrain
in the world. It not only has all the beaches, sparkling clear water
and foliage you would expect to find on a tropical island, but it also
has mountains more than 7,000 feet, waterfalls, caves, wide open areas
that resemble the African plain and even arid sections that will pass
In addition, it has the abundance of the Spanish and British colonial
buildings dating back to the 1500s. It has concrete and glass cities,
elegant suburban homes, ramshackle slums and villages with thatched
huts. It also has a racially mixed population of many hues and ethnic
distinctions, which .. includes a number of people willing to serve
"AND YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER"
as extras. The national language is English, and you can drink the
water. (Cliff 200)
This depiction repeats all the major elements of tourist books: the
friendly people willing to serve as extras, the exciting colonial past,
and the beautiful virgin landscape. Note, too, that the passage
successfully banishes the Jamaican people from the virgin landscape
by locating them in the paragraph that describes buildings, cities, and
amenities rather than in the paragraph that describes the natural
beauty of the place. This article, which describes Jamaica in reassuring,
domesticating terms ("an hour and a half south of Miami by jet," "a
little smaller than Connecticut") and stresses its amenities ("The
national language is English, and you can drink the water"), will certainly
have the effect of drawing tourists to Jamaica, and a blockbuster film
featuring the beauties of the Jamaican landscape will no doubt do the
same. The filmmakers, then, manage to exploit Jamaica twice: once in
their own use of the place as a welcoming tourist site during the
shooting, and once in their misrepresentation of the landscape in the
film, which will make them a great deal of money and draw flocks of
tourists to Jamaica. The revolutionaries' attack against the film shoot
thus becomes an important battle over who has the right to control
the use and representation of the Jamaican landscape.
This guerrilla attack is a disaster-helicopters sweep in and massacre
the revolutionaries while the actors and technicians, who have been
warned, hide in their trailers-but it is also a victory of sorts. One of
the people killed is a mentally disturbed Jamaican man who has been
hired to play Sasabonsam, the Forest God. In this travesty of a film,
Sasabonsam is a wild, hair-covered figure who attacks a young and
highly sexualized Nanny (a maroon leader traditionally depicted as
"an old woman naked except for a necklace made from the teeth of
whitemen") so that an equally sexualized Will Cudjoe can rescue her
(Cliff 206-7). These three figures embody the touristic depictions of
the Jamaican landscape, eroticized and wild, but when the man playing
Sasabonsam is killed, he effectively melts back into the landscape:
"Sasabonsam fell, silent. Spraying across the bushes" (Cliff 208).
Essentially, this figure that the film-makers extract from Jamaican
tradition and alter to meet their own needs is reclaimed by the forest
that he is meant to represent. It is not clear what will happen next,
whether the film shoot will continue, but the revolutionaries at least
succeed in marking the set as a site of violence and reclaiming
Sasabonsam as a part of their landscape.
Sasabonsam is not the only figure that melts into the landscape.
Clare, who has been painfully fragmented throughout the novel, finally
becomes whole when, through her death, she is reclaimed by the
Jamaican landscape. As Cliff herself points out, "In her death she has
complete identification with her homeland; soon enough she will be
indistinguishable from the ground" (Clare Savage 265). Reuniting Clare
with the landscape here functions both as the sort of revolutionary
reinhabiting found in Daughters and as a strategy of appropriating the
feminization of the landscape as a revolutionary act. Cliff explains that
her writing is inspired by the work of the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta
who "represents this homeland, this landscape of her identity, as female,
as womb, the contours of a woman's body":
Both Mendieta and I understand the landscape of our islands as female.
...I try in [this novel] to show the power, particularly the spiritual
authority of the grandmother, as well as her victimization. ...At her
most powerful, the grandmother is the source of knowledge, magic,
ancestors, stories, healing practices, and food. ...She may be informed
with ashe, the power to make things happen, the responsibility to
mete justice. (Clare Savage 265-7)
Cliff seeks to reclaim the feminized landscape so that it is no longer
"unspoiled, virgin territory, waiting to be transformed and possessed
by imperial (heterosexual) design" (Erotic 90) but rather an emblem of
power, struggle, and the right of the Caribbean people to control the
uses and depictions of their space; the feminization of the landscape
becomes associated not with availability for foreign misappropriation
but with a revolution led by women. As one critic notes, a similar
feminization of revolution is at work in Daughters: "Resistance against
oppression in its various guises.. .may have fallen primarily upon the
shoulders of women" (Pettis 96).
This is the point at which the characters' defense of place and the
authors' depiction of landscape come together to counter touristic
misappropriation. Ursa and Clare, Marshall and Cliff are able to take
on the strategies of the tourist guides and use them in defense of the
landscape. Belinda Edmondson argues that "in the Caribbean historical
script the silent [black female] body becomes metonymy for quiescent
land, ripe for exploitation" (72). In Daughters and No Telephone To
Heaven, the protagonists are anything but silent bodies, and they claim
voices for their lands to counter those of the tourist guides. In Ursa's
case, this voice is the voice of the people; she helps Beaufils get elected,
"AND YOU CAN DRINK THE WATER" 19
and he and his wife will not leave the beach until "the P and D Board
agrees to consult with the people in the district about the resort
scheme" (Marshall 396). In No Telephone to Heaven, Clare's struggle
and death give a voice to the landscape itself. As she dies, the narrative
fades away into a series of sounds that suggest the birds and insects of
the forest (208); the land speaks, and the tourists are forgotten.
20 ELIZABETH DAVIS
Alexander, M. Jacqui. "Erotic Autonomy as a Politics of Decolonization: An
Anatomy of Feminism and State Practice in the Bahamas as Tourist
Economy." Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures.
Ed. M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty. New York:
Routledge, 1997. 63-100.
___ "Not Just Any (Body) Can Be A Citizen: The Politics of Law, Sexuality,
and Postcoloniality in Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas". Feminist
Review 48, (Autumn 1994): 5-23.
de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven Rendall.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Cliff, Michelle. "Clare Savage as a Crossroads Character." Caribbean Women
Writers: Essays From the First International Conference. Ed. Selwyn R.
Cudjoe. Wellesley: Calaloux Publications, 1990. 263-8.
No Telephone To Heaven. 1987. New York: Plume, 1996.
Edmondson, Belinda. "Race, Gender, and the Caribbean Narrative of
Revolution." Interventions: Feminist Dialogues on Third World Women's
Literature and Film. Ed. Bishnupriya Ghosh and Brinda Bose. New
York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1997. 63-78.
Frommer's Online. http://www.frommers.com/. Wiley Publishing, 2000-2002.
Contains material from Frommer's Jamaica, 1st edition. Eds. Darwin
Porter and Danforth Prince. Frommer's, 2000: http://www.
frommers. com/destinations/jamaica/0093020110. html, http://
Virgin Islands, 6th edition. Eds. Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince.
Frommer's, 2001: http.//www. frommers.com/destinations/virginislands/
0092020212.html; and Frommer's Caribbean 2002. Eds. Darwin Porter
and Danforth Prince. Frommer's, 2002: http://www.frommers.com/
MacCannell, Dean. The Tourist. New York: Shocken Books, 1976.
Macpherson, Heidi Slettedahl. "Perceptions of Place: Geopolitical and
Cultural Positioning in Paule Marshall's Novels." Caribbean Women
Writers: Fiction in English. Ed. Mary Cond6 and Thorunn Lonsdale.
St. Martin's Press: New York, 1999. 75-96.
Marshall, Paule. Daughters. 1991. New York: Plume, 1992.
Pettis, Joyce. "Legacies of Community and History in Paule Marshall's
Daughters". Studies in the Literary Imagination 26.2 (Fall 93): 89-99.
Schwartzman, M.T. ed. Caribbean Ports of Call 1998. New York: Fodor's Travel
Publications, Inc., 1997.
Toyosato, Mayumi. "Grounding Self and Action: Land, Community, and
Survival in I, Rigoberta, Menchd, No Telephone To Heaven, and So Far
From God". Hispanic Journal 19.2 (Fall 98): 295-311.
Taming the Tempest:
Locating Bermuda on the Literary Map
Kim Dismont Robinson
he challenge for Caribbean women writers, historically shut out
of master discourses and excluded from critical discussion, has
been to chart a path out of speechlessness; to learn not only
how to speak, as Michelle Cliff has suggested, but how to reveal as
well.' This path out of speechlessness has been, and continues to be,
a particularly challenging journey for Bermudian women and
Bermudian women writers for a number of reasons, both historic and
Consider this essay as a kind of critical buoy a marker in the middle
of an ocean of literary silence, functioning both as a historical reminder
of Bermudian presence in a Caribbean literary ocean as well as a
mooring which can be used and revisited during the course of a
Bermudian journey out of speechlessness. Beginning with a brief and
unlikely juxtaposition of two rather well-known texts The History of
Mary Prince and The Tempest- before concluding with a discussion of
literature produced by and about Bermudian women in the twentieth
century, this essay will provide a sketch of a particular historical
continuum in regards to literary production in Bermuda. Such a sketch
will illuminate the rupture between how Bermudian women have been
"written" by others versus how they are attempting to "write"
themselves. Although many quiet ripples have been swallowed by the
distance which separates Bermudian women from their sisters on the
other islands of the Americas, a slowly developing tradition links
Cliff, Michelle. "A Journey into Speech." The GraywolfAnnual Five: Multi-Cultural
Literacy. Rick Simonson and Scott Walker, eds. St Paul: Graywolf Press, 1988. 57-81.
22 KIM DISMONT ROBINSON
Bermudian writing both historically and ideologically with the rapidly
expanding literary tradition of the Caribbean.
It is true that the critical analyses and re-writings of The Tempest
and the power relationships between Ariel, Caliban, Prospero and
Miranda, formed the early basis for an entire constellation of language
through which Caribbean intellectuals began to articulate a post- or
neo-colonial Caribbean discourse.2 The irony, of course, is that the
island of Shakespeare's imagination is "the still-vexed Bermoothes;"
ironic because this text which has formed the basis for many Caribbean
post-colonial discourses has its roots in the literary imagination of an
island which is neither post-colonial nor technically even part of the
By contrast, The History of Mary Prince is one of the most widely-
read slave narratives of this century.3 The History of Mary Prince is also
of particular interest to Caribbean scholars because, unlike Harriet
Wilson's Our Nig or Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,
The History of Mary Prince is the first known history published about a
black West Indian woman who escaped from slavery.4 The irony, from
a Bermudian perspective, is significant. Firstly, not only was Mary Prince
born and raised in Bermuda, but the full title of the text is The History
of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself. Thus, the very
first and indisputably best-known publication produced by a black
Bermudian / West Indian establishes a historical, cultural and literary
connection between Bermuda and the rest of the Caribbean.
Secondly and perhaps most ironically, this well-known text is least
well-known in Bermuda, and has not been taught in the Bermudian
school system until quite recently. Thirdly, although Bermuda has deep
and significant cultural, historical and familial ties with the Caribbean
- most notably St. Kitts, Jamaica, and Turks and Caicos the term
"West Indian" has been used as a marker of contempt in Bermuda in
previous generations; and it is not until the past few decades that
2 Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. New York: The Shakespeare Society of
New York, 1908.
3 Prince, Mary. The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, Related by Herself.
Moira Ferguson, ed. Revised Edition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
4 In the revised introduction to the text, Moira Ferguson states that Prince's
narrative "combines aspects of the eighteenth-century British slave narrative, the
nineteenth-century U.S. narrative, and the format of recorded court cases of slave
abuse. Because of its rarity, Mary Prince's History is aslo sui generis, with no
comparable account extant by a female West Indian slave" (24-5).
TAMING THE TEMPEST 23
Bermudians would even consider naming themselves as part of a larger
Caribbean diaspora. Lastly, these two foundational texts The Tempest
and The History of Mary Prince, one written in the seventeenth century
and the other written in the nineteenth century, one about Bermudians
and the other by a Bermudian seem almost to exist as literary
aberrations, since little else has ever floated to the outside world
regarding this "isle so long unknown."
Some of the problems which plague Bermudian literary production
are the same ones that exist for any small island. However, Bermudian
writers have not joined any of the permanently exiled literary
communities in England or the States that George Lamming writes about
in The Pleasures of Exile.5 This is partly because Bermuda's economy
is strong enough where if you settle on a more "practical" profession
like law or business, you have the potential to earn an excellent living.
Because of Bermuda's dual financial pillars of tourism and international
business, writers specifically and artists in general have not typically
been encouraged to develop their talents, which are seen as being
neither materially useful nor particularly meaningful. And unbelievably,
Bermudians are still debating amongst ourselves about whether or not
Bermuda even has a culture, a conversation that has long been put to
rest elsewhere in the Caribbean.
By positing The History of Mary Prince and The Tempest as Bermuda's
two literary parents, it situates Bermuda within a Caribbean literary
tradition. But even more importantly, the juxtaposition of these two
texts in a Bermudian context raises the "still vex'd" issue of literary
representation which traditionally has plagued New World
communities. Although fictional, The Tempest has been read by many
Caribbean scholars as the colonising literary representation which
needs to be escaped. Despite problems inherent with slave narratives,
Mary Prince's historical "telling" is a challenge to distorted images of
Caribbean people broadly and Bermudian women specifically, images
which have been used as acts of violence against West Indian
These two texts, stemming from radically different literary impulses,
are linked to contemporary texts by and about Bermudians. An early
text, entitled The Painted Lily, is not written by a Bermudian at all but
rather by an English woman named Amy J. Baker, also listed as Mrs.
5 Lamming, George. The Pleasures of Exile. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan
24 KIM DISMONT ROBINSON
Maynard Crawford.6 This book, which is now out of print, was first
published in 1921; Ms Baker states in her foreword that The Painted
Lily is "a novel of Bermudan life, written in Bermuda. I have described
things as I have found them, during a two years' stay in the islands.
That there are other aspects I have no doubt." Baker goes on to state:
"The colonial families see life from one angle, the American tourists
from another. Impressions are the result of personal experience; mine,
though in no way autobiographical, are set down in the following pages."
There is an interesting story behind The Painted Lily; although the
book is out of print, you will be hard-pressed to find a copy of this
book in Bermuda despite the local references. The rumour surrounding
its unavailability, which like any rumour on a small island may be either
total fact or total fiction, is that the white population in Bermuda
destroyed most of the copies of the book when it was first published.
Regardless of the veracity of such a rumour, one may wonder what
about the book's content would spark such a real or imagined reaction.
The basic plot of The Painted Lily, about a black woman who
unsuccessfully attempts to pass for white and eventually becomes a
famous film star, is startlingly similar to the 1934 classic film Imitation
of Life and its 1959 remake starring Lana Turner. However, the aspect
of the text which perhaps caused a stir is that one of Lily's relatives
who is also "passing" is married to a wealthy white Bermudian
businessman an aspect of the book that may have some basis in fact.7
Although the reader is assured in the foreword that The Painted Lily
is not an autobiographical novel nor is it meant to be read as a factual
text, the author's admission that this novel is based on her observations
of Bermudian culture during her two-year stay on the island cannot be
ignored. It is for this reason that perhaps the observations regarding
Bermuda by one of the more periphery characters may be considered
as at least partially based on the author's impressions of the island.
This character states that "Bermuda in 1919 was a pure island, and a
dull island; and it has not changed... a grand passion couldn't live in
Bermuda, it would die of damp and apathy." One character, the wife of
an English colonel who yearns for her former station in Africa, brands
Bermuda as "an isle of negation... here, no one could do a great deed,
6 Baker, Amy J. The Painted Lily. London: John Long, Ltd., 1921.
7 For insight into the issue of Bermudian race issues and the dynamics of
"passing" as occurs fictionally in The Painted Lily and historically on the island of
Bermuda, see Kim Dismont Robinson's "Family Secrets," The Bermudian, February
TAMING THE TEMPEST 25
accomplish a great good, sin a great sin. There are no heights and no
Given this image of Bermuda as an "isle of negation," the personality
of the primary subject of the novel does not come as a surprise. Lily is
a beautiful, devastatingly heartless Bermudian mulatta living in the
parish of St. George's. She is described as having, at first glance, a
"perfect" face, a "dazzlingly fair" complexion, and hair like "the gold of
moonlight on water" (45). Yet, at second glance, we are told that "her
loveliness did not suggest the gentle beauty of English wild flowers...
she was of the tropics; there was something aggressive in her languor,
in the redness of her small curved mouth, in the slight thickening at its
corners. Her eyes were blue, with lids a little too heavily folded...her
nose, however, fell short of perfection. True, it was a small nose, in no
way calculated to arrest attention, but though straight enough along
its ridge, the nostrils lay a shade too flatly upon the cheeks, and were
thickened in their curve. Lily herself tried to press them inwards, but
they resisted her attentions"(45-6).
Lily is in no way a character that evokes sympathy; she is portrayed
as a liar, a deceitful manipulator; someone for whom it is habitual to
despise people, especially members of her own family. Her Aunt
Stephanie Innerfield, who also attempts to pass for white, encourages
her niece to rise above the stain of leprosy in the family and her
coloured blood; urging her to marry either "an American for money, an
Englishman for family. Either would take you out of Bermuda, and
once away you can forget" (110). But the title of the book is ironic
testimony to Lily's inability to escape her roots. When an artist visiting
the island decides to paint Lily's portrait, he accentuates "the cruelty
of genius...the Ethiopian whisper in her lovely face" (56) and names
his picture "The Painted Lily." The local children taunt Lily by singing
derisively, "Lily, Lily, they call you Painted Lily! Painted Lily, tainted
Lily, Lily painted black" (146).
Ultimately, Lily's secret is exposed and her marriage to a white
Englishman is destroyed; although she admits that she "can't run from
heredity," she eventually leaves Bermuda and becomes a famous film
star before abruptly ending her career and becoming a nun in a leper
colony. But like many novels in the "tragic mulatto" tradition, The
Painted Lily functions both as a warning to blacks about the futility of
passing, and as a warning to whites about the dangers of integration
and the inherent taint of Caribbean creolity.
Beyond the more obvious issues of racism in The Painted Lily, the
text is particularly disturbing because it exists almost in a
26 KIM DISMONT ROBINSON
representational void; there is very little written by Bermudians during
that time that would act as a counterpoint to the images of Bermuda
and Bermudians found in The Painted Lily. The literary violence of the
text, therefore, has an even more significant impact. The most
significant texts produced in this century by black Bermudians have
taken the form of histories and historical memoirs rather than fiction;
most notably texts such as Second Class Citizens, First Class Men by Dr.
Eva Hodgson in 1963, Freedom Fighters: From Monk to Mazumbo by Ira
Philip in 1987, and Chained on the Rock by Cyril Packwood in 1975.
However, two of the most important texts of creative fiction produced
by Bermudians in the twentieth century were both published in the
1990s. The two books, Palmetto Wine published in 1990 and the literary
sequel An Isle So Long Unknown published in 1993, are collections of
short stories produced by The Bermuda Writers' Collective, a local
group comprised mostly of a few friends attempting to nurture the
island's budding literary talents. The short stories written by three
Bermudian women in these two books illuminate aspects of the island's
culture through the medium of literature: Angela Barry, an educator
and former English lecturer at the Bermuda College; Nelda Simons,
manager of the Liberty Theatre in Bermuda; and Meredith Ebbin, a
longstanding journalist and managing editor of The Bermudian
George Lamming states in the introduction to An Isle So Long
Unknown that "the function of a national literature is to return the
society to itself; to illuminate for public scrutiny those intimate areas
of thought and feeling which habit and the fear of powerful conventions
have forced us to conceal"(xvi).8 The Tempest and The History of Mary
Prince offer insight into ideologies from both sides of the literary coin
during the colonial era; The Painted Lily provides some clues as to
perceptions of Caribbean society during the post-Emancipation, pre-
desegregation era. The contemporary literature written by Simons,
Barry, and Ebbins certainly begins to fill a void in literary
representation. Perhaps more importantly however, their work also
offers clues as to the trajectory of the culture presently developing in
Bermuda since they use the construction of literature as a tool for
deconstructing Bermudian society. Their work can also be considered
a continuation of the conversation that Mary Prince began almost 170
8 Lamming, George. "Introduction." An Isle So Long Unknown. Devonshire,
Bermuda: The Bermuda Writers' Collective, 1993. xiii-xvi.
TAMING THE TEMPEST 27
years ago. Although Bermuda does not have a strong contemporary
literary tradition which local artists can draw upon, nevertheless, all
three of these writers have begun the work of illuminating Bermuda
for Bermudians, skilfully highlighting contemporary issues which lie
just below the deceptively calm waters of local society.
Meredith Ebbin's story "Hot Sauce" in the Palmetto Wine anthology
touches on a sensitive issue already mentioned; the strained
relationship between Bermuda and the Caribbean.9 The story opens
with the main character, a Bermudian woman named Leigh, declaring
that "I've had enough of those West Indians" whom she sees as being
"grabbish," "loud and aggressive" people who reek of "coconut and
hot sauce" (16). Leigh admits that she spent most of her life priding
herself on not being a West Indian, despite having a Guyanese
grandfather. It is not until Leigh attends school in Canada and is rejected
by her white boyfriend's family that she realizes racist or xenophobic
people make no distinction between Bermuda, Barbados, and Bahamas.
The rejection Leigh experiences awakens a level of social consciousness
she previously lacked, which sparks a desire to identify herself as a
member of a pan-Caribbean community.
With her story "Hot Sauce," Meredith Ebbin uses literature to remind
Bermudians of what Mary Prince's narrative historically indicates:
Bermudians are Caribbean people, and such a statement is not an
arbitrary affiliation. Because Bermuda's physical, political, social and
economic positioning has exposed residents to British, American, and
Canadian ideologies, Bermudians have had difficulty defining
themselves from a cultural perspective, both historically and presently.
But as Ebbin illustrates, a Bermudian who denies Caribbeanness
engages in a devastating act of self-negation. "Hot Sauce" sets up a
familiar scenario for many Bermudians in terms of the disdain for the
Caribbean that has long been a part of cultural reality, and provides a
cognitive map charting one Bermudian's path out of denial and self-
hatred. This story, which emerged during a particularly crucial time
for Bermudians attempting to define Bermudian identity, also functions
as a challenge for Bermudians still slumbering under the spell of cultural
and social colonialism.
Angela Barry's short story entitled "Song for Man" delves into
Bermuda's youth culture, a subject which rarely garners much critical
9 Ebbin, Meredith. "Hot Sauce." Palmetto Wine. Devonshire, Bermuda: The
Bermuda Writers' Collective, 1990. 15-22.
KIM DiSMONT ROBINSON
attention outside news reports about rebellious teens."1 In "Song for
Man," Barry presents a complicated, intelligent teen nicknamed Man
who camouflages pain behind laughter, clever words, and motorbike
pack racing. The reader gets a sense of the root of Man's pain when, in
a mocking imitation of his mother, Man tells her where he got his name
despite his childish behaviour: "It was you, Mama, the first time you
told me I had to look after myself when you went out with your
boyfriend. Don't you remember? You said you weren't old, you were
only thirty and you had a right to a life too? You don't remember that?
That was the first time anyone called me Man"(135). Man takes a drink
to steady his nerves after his outburst, then goes to join the gathering of
pack-racers a clan Barry describes as "space travellers" sitting "solidly
astride their bikes, as though fused to them" like "modern-day centaurs,
half human, half iron horse." Man dies in a bike crash that night, in a
story that offers a critical understanding of the psychology behind some
of the more destructive elements of Bermudian youth culture.
In her portrayal of Man and his clan as "modern-day centaurs," an
almost cyborg-like image, Barry offers a critique of a deteriorating
Bermudian familial structure which is ripping at the seams. Bermudians
and other Caribbean people are who our children are becoming; a
society increasingly linked to technology, increasingly worldly,
increasingly cynical and increasingly lost. Shaped by images of sex
and violence from American videos with no counter vision being offered
from home, Man and his whole generation are becoming colder human
beings as much a product of technology as they are of warped human
context. Local politicians, schools and religious institutions address
the "youth problem" the way most countries do with statements that
suggest an utter lack of comprehension. This is a concern everywhere,
but in this instance Barry utilises literature as a gift, as a way of lending
voice to these so-called rebellious youths whose disrespect serves as
a reminder that their culture did not spontaneously erupt Bermudian
youth culture is part of a clearly defined continuum which implicates
the entire family structure.
The third writer, Nelda Simons, uses the Bermudian cultural practice
of writing letters to the editor as a wickedly satirical way of poking fun
at personal and public politics in her story "A Summer of Letters."" In
1I Barry, Angela. "Song for Man." Palmetto Wine. Devonshire, Bermuda: The
Bermuda Writers' Collective, 1990. 123-140.
1 Simons, Nelda. "A Summer of Letters." An Isle So Long Unknown. Devonshire,
Bermuda: The Bermuda Writers' Collective, 1993. 7-32.
TAMING THE TEMPEST
Bermuda, the "Letters to the Editor" column in the only daily
newspaper, The Royal Gazette, provides one of the few public although
often anonymous spaces for political discourse and criticisms on an
island full of what Bermudian commentator Larry Burchall once termed
"public liars and private tellers of truths." Simons utilises this structure
to highlight the ironic absurdities of absent politicians, disgruntled
residents, and gas-happy moped riders. The inane details of small-
island life make Bermuda a country ripe for satire, and this short story
works very well as a development in that tradition. Although each of
the letters are from vastly different characters, there is a singular theme
that emerges; this is a text which highlights social and political
fragmentation, and satirises how judgmental and hypocritical
Bermudians can be. For example, the Editor is forced to omit
obscenities in the letter sent by Mrs. Lightsner, where she cusses out
another driver for his lack of manners and signs "Respectfully Yours";
in another, P.O'D Smith states "Surprise! Surprise! The prison will be
finished early. It should be. We've got more laws than people." The
final letter in the series offers a biblical quote from Jeremiah, that "the
harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved," which
provides an opening for the reader's interpretation. Perhaps this quote
can be read as veiled critique of the constant slew of letters to the
editor, which is Bermuda's primary form of community dialogue.
Simons seems to suggest that these letters, which lead to a false sense
of accomplishment and result in a partial alleviation of personal tension,
ultimately do little to improve or redeem Bermudian society.
In the tradition of Mary Prince, the challenge of Bermudian and other
Caribbean women writers is, as Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory
Fido have suggested, to "fill voids, correct omissions, redress
neglects."12 Although there currently is not a plethora of writing
emerging from Bermuda, the island is by no means a literary wasteland.
Bermuda, like so many of the islands throughout the Caribbean,
continues to struggle to create an image of itself, of its own making.
12 Boyce Davies, Carole and Elaine Savory Fido, eds. Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean
Women and Literature. Trenton, NJ: Africa New World Press, 1990.
Shaping a Symbol: Schwarz-Bart's Visions
and Revisions of His Guadeloupian
Heroine in La mulatresse Solitude
Aaron C. Eastley
Vire libre on iiouirir. "
Solitude, Fenines des Antilles: Traces et Voix
"Sans le voloilo sans inme le ,sa'voir dit-on,
[Solitude] conduisit le group deseinparie . "
-Andre Schwarz-Bart, La inulcitresse Solitude
Much has been made by critics of Andre Schwarz-Bart's singular
portrayal of his historical heroine in La mulatresse Solitude
(1972), translated from the French by Ralph Manheim as A
Woman Named Solitude (1973,2001).' Solitude, a mulatta slave conceived
in rape during the Middle Passage, lived to become one of the most
famous maroons in Guadeloupean history. As rendered by Schwarz-
Bart, however, Solitude becomes a marginally sane 'zombi-corne,' whose
In this essay I have followed quotations from the original novel with English
translations from Manheim's text. I have also provided translations of my own for
quotations from critical sources written in French. All quotations in French are
italicized, with English translations immediately following in non-italicized print.
Accordingly, in-text parenthetical references list page numbers referring to the
original French language texts first, and English translations second.
32 AARON C. EASTLEY
documented acts of violent resistance to slavery are presented as little
more than the haphazard forays of a woman acutely distracted-one
who in moments of crisis often thinks she is a dog, and whose success
in fighting and eluding her enemies can only reasonably be attributed
to incredible good fortune.
The question arises: what is the source and significance of this
peculiar vision? Is it Schwarz-Bart's own creation-or merely a fleshed-
out version of a well-known tale? Or has Schwarz-Bart, in fact,
significantly revised such a tale, overlaying it with his own idiosyncratic
visions of what might have been? Whatever the case may be, his text
and its singular representation of Solitude are of great importance, for
as an indisputably well-written, full-length novel, the text commands a
great deal of attention, and its version or "vision" of Solitude threatens
to trump all others. This, of course, is highly consequential owing to
Solitude's status as a powerful political symbol, an inspiration to
countless people in the West Indies and beyond who are struggling to
resist various contemporary forms of slavery. A less than sane Solitude
seems likely to engender very little inspiration or historical pride. And
yet truth, whatever it may be, ought to count for something, and legends
that have survived the years may have more potency than at first we
might guess. Indeed, if truth be told, the most human heroes are often
the most inspiring. So, returning to my original question: what are
readers to make of Schwarz-Bart's Solitude? How is she really
represented in the novel, and what of it?
Schwarz-Bart's interpretive vision, it ought to be noted, differs
markedly from that of several other contemporary writers, including
Gisele Pineau and Marie Abraham, who in Femmes des Antilles: Traces
and Voix attribute to Solitude the strident rhetoric of a resolute run-
away. Their Solitude declares: "Vivre libre en marronnage et courir et
se cacher et combattre pour cette liberty ... Vivre libre ou mourir!" (Live
free as maroons and run and hide and fight for that freedom ... Live
free or die!) (224). The maroonage of their Solitude is obviously no
mistake. She runs, hides and fights for her freedom explicitly because
her awareness of herself and her environment would make a return to
life as a slave intolerable. Furthermore, in a subsequent illustrative
passage Pineau and Abraham call to mind Solitude's legendary
leadership of a band of maroons in this manner: "Solitude, la mulatresse
marronne! Et j'acais pas vingt-cinq ans que je commandais ddjd toute
une bande de negres marrons. Sans cesse pourchasses par les troupes
frangaises et les milices noires." (Solitude, the mulatta maroon! When
not yet twenty-five I already commanded an entire band of black
maroons, constantly hunted by both French troops and black
SHAPING A SYMBOL
militiamen.") Here Solitude proudly claims her role as leader of the
maroon band that would become famous in oral legend.
In contrast, Schwarz-Bart seldom allows Solitude to speak at all in
his text, and he records the inception of Solitude's leadership in this
way: "Sans le vouloir, sans meme le savoir dit-on, elle conduisit le group
ddsempard et qui s'amenuisait de jour en jour" "Without meaning to,
without even knowing what she was doing-or so it is said-she led
the forlorn band, which dwindled with each passing day" (110, 138-
139). Likewise, when the little band is attacked by soldiers and dogs
Schwarz-Bart relates: "Solitude se jetait au-devant des chiens, des
hommes, des fusils ... Quand tout 6tait fini, elle decouvrait avec etonnement
son sabre luisant jusqu la garde, ses mains, ses bras teints de sang, et
les grands yeux dblouis de ses compagnons. Alors elle pleurait doucement,
sans comprendre" "Solitude flung herself at the dogs and armed men.
When it was all over, she looked with surprise at her dripping machete,
her blood-stained hands, and the stunned eyes of her companions"
(112, 141). Two portrayals could hardly be more different: the vocal
commander of Pineau and Abraham's text, and the animalistic,
uncomprehending, leader-by-accident figure of Schwarz-Bart's.
Significantly as well, Schwarz-Bart's perspective is not necessarily
shared by his wife Simone, who co-authored the trilogy of which Solitude
is a part. (Specifically, as Clarisse Zimra has noted, the first novel in
the trilogy, Un Plat de Porc aux Bananes Vertes, "is the joint work of
Andr6 and Simone Schwarz-Bart," while "Simone claims exclusive
authorship for Thlumde Miracle, [and] Andr6 claims exclusive
authorship for Solitude" (101)). Concerning the differing perspectives
held by Simone and Andre, Zimra observes:
The telling distinction between Andr6 and Simone may well be that
Simone sees her heroine as fully active, aware of the consequences of
her rebellion, ... whereas Andr6 sees his heroine as reactive, and her
gradual descent into insanity as an exemplary martyrdom ... (102)
Apparently Simone, a Guadeloupean woman, is inclined to see Solitude
more as Pineau and Abraham have done. Quite understandably, critics
including Zimra and Charlotte Bruner are inclined to agree.2
2 Perhaps based on slightly essentialist leanings, Bruner mistakenly credits
Simone Schwarz-Bart with the authorship of Solitude, and then is left to account for
Simone's ostensible failure to portray Solitude as actively as might be wished. Bruner
concludes: "... Solitude, Schwartz-Bart's heroine, though neither inert nor unfeeling,
is strangely passive" (244).
34 AARON C. EASTLEY
I would suggest, however, that there is considerably more to Andre's
interpretive vision of Solitude than is revealed by a narrow analysis
focusing only on her apparent apathy in the novel. A careful examination
of the text demonstrates that Schwarz-Bart did indeed work from local
legend in his depiction of Solitude's life, and that his portrayal of her
dementia roots that condition in the traumatic alienation which she
experiences as a result of her mixed-race identity. Furthermore, the
condition of madness or zombie-ism in the text is consistently
portrayed as a common form of resistance resorted to by slaves in
extremity-not merely as the result of personal weakness or of any
singular, "exemplary martyrdom." Schwarz-Bart, I would suggest,
demonstrates integrity in his novel by creating a complex, credible
and sympathetic portrayal of his historical heroine, while working
within the confines of an oral tradition which he questions but does
In his novel, Schwarz-Bart's lays the foundation for his portrayal of
his heroine by framing very carefully the race-based rejection of
Solitude by her mother, who chooses to run away without her, and by
other blacks. Solitude, we are shown, is specifically left behind because
of her mixed race origin and identity, and once she comes to understand
this fully (as she gets older and is rejected again and again by other
blacks [89, 108]), her sense of racial alienation becomes acute-for
Solitude, as Schwarz-Bart sympathetically fashions her, is an individual
who identifies intensely with both her mother as a person and with
her mother's race.
From her earliest years little 'Rosalie' (Solitude) is tormented by the
suspicions of blacks who fear she will turn against them, taking
advantage of the relative fairness of her complexion. For example, the
man with whom her mother will eventually run away (known in the
novel only as "the peg leg") treats her kindly enough, patting her on
the head and acting "toute comme si elle eut etd une chaude et claire
negrillonne," "just as if she had been a shining black child," but while
his acts are kind, "... sitat qu'il ouvrait la bouche, curieusement, c'dtait
pour dvoquer les petites mulatresses qui s'empressent de renier leur mere,
des que le cordon ombilical se ddtache du coeur" "when he opened his
mouth, it was always to talk about the little mulatto girls who start
denying their mothers the moment their umbilical cord is cut" (51,
57). His words betray the suspicions shown by "pure" blacks throughout
Solitude's problem (if it can possibly be called that) is that she does
not wish to deny her mother and her mother's race and accept the
SHAPING A SYMBOL
supposed privileges available to her. The peg leg's accusation, so far
from the natural inclinations of her heart, shocks her so much that she
hears nothing more of his conversation with her mother, but focuses
entirely on the prejudicial accusation and pitiably attempts to deny its
veracity: "[Elle] entendait seulement la phrase sur les petites mulatresses,
- et elle venait 6 Man Bobette, elle mettait un genou en terre, elle secouait
la tote pour protester contre la phrase. ""[She] heard only what [the peg
leg] said about the mulatto girls. She went over to Man Bobette, knelt
on one knee, and shook her head in protest" (51, 57). Her devastation
following her mother's desertion, then, is both that of a devoted
daughter who sees that she is not desired, and, crucially, that of a child
made to understand that it is specifically because of her conception in
rape and her resulting mixed-race status that she is suspected of
disloyalty and shunned.
This racial element is further illustrated in the detail that little
Rosalie's thoughts about being left behind turn from hopes that her
mother will return for her to utter bitterness the moment news reaches
that her mother is living happily in the mountains with a group of African
blacks and has given birth to a new child "aussi noiretjoli qu 'une graine
d'icaque" "as pretty and black as a coco plum" (72, 85). In response to
this news of her replacement, the alienated Rosalie, now appropriately
designated "Deux-Cmes," "Two-Souls," ruthlessly murders several
chickens in an act of vengeful rage-an act enjoyed by each of her
souls: by her black soul because she imagines this injury to the white
household would be smiled on by her mother, and by her mulatta soul
which now seeks to reject as it has been rejected, musing and then
cursing: "Et d'ailleurs Man Bobette pouvait crever, crever comme les
poules ses jambes raidies sous elle, ses yeux injects de sang, son bec de
negresse ouvert comme un entonnoir: bon vent, ... bon vent ma chore,
bon vent" "And anyway, Man Bobette [her mother] could die as far as
she was concerned, die like the chickens, with rigid legs and bloodshot
eyes and her black mouth open like a funnel: 'Bon voyage,' Two-Souls
would say. 'Bon voyage, ma chere'" (72, 86). This love-inspired hatred
is poignant in its suggestion of an almost overwhelming mental anguish.
And it is no coincidence that in Schwarz-Bart's text her murderous act
is the immediate prelude to the onset of her fear of changing into
something else-the most horrifying possibility (in her own mind) being
a dog (73, 87).
Moving from the issue of the cause of Solitude's condition to a
consideration of the nature of that condition itself, it is important to
look closely at Schwarz-Bart's treatment of madness or zombie-ism in
36 AARON C. EASTLEY
the text. For even if it is accepted that Solitude, as depicted by Schwarz-
Bart, is the victim of extraordinary mental and emotional strain, it would
still seem possible for her to respond to such pressures with wit and
stridency, rather than to withdraw into apathetic dementia.
An important point to make here, however, is that Schwarz-Bart's
depiction of zombie-ism in the text is powerfully multi-faceted. For
while many readers quite naturally associate zombie-ism with weak-
mindedness, Schwarz-Bart depicts it as a trance-like state into which
individuals may deliberately withdraw either in order to shield
themselves from extreme mental anguish, or to steel their nerves for
violent confrontations. Such shielding, in other words, enables
individuals to endure with equanimity oppressions which they are
powerless to resist, and then to act fearlessly when opportunity arises.
This is precisely the function of Solitude's zombie-ism in Schwarz-
Bart's text. Indeed, from the earliest mention of apathetic, zombie-like
behavior in the novel, it is clear that the absence of facial expressions
and overt protest is directly tied to intense activity elsewhere. "Le
masque doucereux" "The insipid mask" which Solitude intentionally puts
"surses traits, ""on her face," and her attitude of being "aimable a touse,
a tous indifferente, ""affable to all, indifferent to all" reflects a calculated,
resistive furtiveness (65, 76).
Such furtiveness is necessary for Solitude owing to her new position
(following her mother's running away) as handmaid to the plantation
overseer's youngest daughter, Mlle. Xavier. Although she has been
placed in an ostensibly privileged position, Solitude's new life is,
however, fraught with contradictions. For as Gautier has explained,
those elite slaves chosen to serve the masters directly did enjoy "plus
de liberty& de movement que les autres esclaves et une situation matirielle
amiliorde grace auxquelles elles acquiarent une conscience plus aigue
de l'injustice qui leur est faite" "more freedom of movement and better
material conditions than other slaves, but by grace of these things they
acquired] a keener awareness of the injustice being done to them"
(227). There are, furthermore, those among this elite who have indeed
allied themselves with the masters, and watch all others with suspicion.
As a defense against both the anguish of awareness and the suspicion
of these new others (Solitude's racially-mixed identity seems always
to arouse the suspicion of others), Solitude begins to withdraw in self-
defense. "Derriere ces yeux-la, loin en retrait, bien enfouies dans son
crdne de poupde, "Behind those eyes, deep in her doll-like head," we
are told, "il y avait quantity de pensdes nouvelles qui s'agitaient come
des crabes" "all sorts of new thoughts darted about like crabs" (66, 77).
SHAPING A SYMBOL
These "crabs," significantly, call readers' minds back to the account
of a slave woman publicly tortured to death earlier in the novel. As the
text depicts, her mother's friend, the peg leg, looks on placidly as the
woman's molasses-coated body was devoured by ants, and is content
to murmur, "de son ordinaire voix de bete soumise: Les Maitres sont
bons, les Maitres sontjustes, les Maitres sont bons, les Maitres ... "in his
usual voice, the voice of a docile animal: The masters are good, the
masters are just, the masters are good, the masters ..." (52, 59). As he
does so (and as Man Bobette similarly looks on with cold impassivity),
a surprised Rosalie/Solitude suddenly perceives that, "tous deux
regardaient la scene avec les memes yeux: deux petits crabes de terre,
bien tapis sous leurs paupieres et qui n'arritaient jamais de bouger, de
fureter, de cisailler l'air ambiant. "they were both observing the scene
with the same eyes: two little land crabs darting this way and that,
searching, biting the air" (52, 59).
Solitude's own crab-eyes later in the book seem to mirror these of
her mother and the peg leg. She deliberately dons this mask, as these
others have done, in order to conceal for a time her "rage secrete"
"secret rage"-which has developed rapidly as she has come to
understand for herself her mother's statement: "Pays de femmes
blanches, pays de mensonges" "Land of white women, land of lies" (68,
81). In the web of lies woven by and surrounding Mlle. Xavier, Solitude
has to be very, very careful about what she reveals.
Specifically, Solitude (again, appropriately designated "Deux-dmes,"
or "Two-Souls" at this point in the novel) must mask the anger which
rises in her as she listens to her mistress, the supposedly mild and
empathetic Mlle. Xavier, discuss how blacks do not feel pain as whites
do and hence can act perfectly tranquil even while undergoing the most
brutal tortures. This statement is painfully ironic in its rather twisted
half-truth: for while the notion that blacks do not feel pain is insidiously
false, Solitude herself becomes living proof of the ability shared by all
humans to suffer in silence. For her pretended pleasantness masks
her resistance, and her outward passivity is directly proportional to
her inner anger and desire to both injure and escape.
Such masked passions, however, as Schwarz-Bart's text seems
powerfully to suggest, cannot be shunted aside and ignored forever.
They must eventually have some outlet, some channel in which to flow.
And once Solitude is robbed of the desperate hope of joining her mother
among the maroons, she begins to change. Specifically, the novel tells,
she arises one night, having been plagued by dark dreams, and stands
alone in the middle of a darkened room, feeling a kind of darkness
38 AARON C. EASTLEY
enter into her, bidding her to change. As the novel says: "dans I'ombre
qui s'epaississait et puis gagnait son coeur, -l'invitant subtilement aux
metamorphoses ..." "the darkness deepened and invaded her heart,
subtly bidding her to change" (73, 88). Pressured almost to the point
of despair, she embraces as it were this final option for self-
determination, and giving up her masked schizophrenia she ceases to
be "Deux-ames" and becomes "Solitude," a young woman freed in spirit,
but at the cost of at least a temporary alienation from both others and
Both the functionality of this freedom and the reality of its terrible
price are made evident in Schwarz-Bart's text. To begin with, in the
passage in which Solitude first proclaims her new name, we watch as a
white man stops and asks her name. Solitude, in response, stands up
from her hoeing in a field, and as she will do frequently from this point
on, laughs. "Ce rire, ""This laugh" Schwarz-Bart writes, is the laugh of
persons, "qui ne sont plus l, car elles naviguent dans les eaux de la
Perdition." "who are absent, floating on the waters of perdition" (75,
90). And after she gives it, Solitude speaks, in "d'une voix monocorde,
mais toujours traversee par ce mime rire, ... les paroles qui devaient
s 'attacher a elle, tout au long de sa br&ve &ternitd: -Avec la permission,
maitre: mon nom est Solitude. "a monotone shot through with the same
laugh, . the words that were to cling to her throughout her brief
eternity: 'By your leave, master: My name is Solitude." This monotone
voice, infected with the lunatic laughter of one far away, metonymically
represents Solitude's new condition. It is an escape without salvation,
a life-preserving (or perhaps more precisely a life-postponing) survival
tactic whose paradoxical price (at least in the short term) is life itself.
As Solitude will later say to le chevalier de Dangeau, a man in whose
house she lives as a zombi-corne for many years, when he asks, "Et toi
pauvre zombi qui te delivrera de tes changes?" "And you, poor zombie,
who will deliver you from your chains?": "Quelle chaines, Seigneur?"
"What chains, Seigneur?" (79-80, 97).
Despite the dear cost, however, the benefits of this estrangement
from the world are two-fold. First, her withdrawals do lead to actual
changes in her living arrangements, with her being removed in one
instance from entertaining whites in the parlors and bedrooms of the
house of Dangeau to the kitchen, and later, the fields-places where
she is actually more at peace. Specifically, in the house of Dangeau
Solitude is exquisitely groomed and kept as a human drawing room
curiosity. Such a role is violently at odds with her own deep-rooted
loyalties, and as she is pushed near her breaking point she is troubled
SHAPING A SYMBOL 39
by a recurring dream. "Dans son cauchemar, toujours le meme," "In her
nightmare, always the same," we are told, "... elle se voyait change en
statue de sucre que des Francais de France digustaient lentement ..."
"she saw herself changed into a sugar statue, which the Frenchmen of
France were slowly eating" (79, 96). As a showpiece she truly is
devoured like candy by the French, and in her subconscious mind there
is no escaping the horrors of this reality. Propelled toward madness by
these nightmares, her peculiar laugh rings out (78, 95). Only when
Dangeau takes pity on her and moves her into the kitchen do her
symptoms abate. As the novel says: "Son rire devint un sourire ldger,
evanescent. ""Her laughter subsided into a faint, fleeting smile."
The second saving grace of this second slavery of zombie-ism into
which Solitude withdraws is that it is a place or condition into which
she seems to have allowed to herself to go, and from which she may,
with an act of will, return. This is seen as Solitude moves from Dangeau's
kitchen to the fields and eventually into the bush and to the maroon
camp presided over by Sanga the Mandingo. There, Sanga inquires of
her: "Ecoute, t'es-t-y folle touted fait?""Tell me, are you completely mad?"
Solitude, upon reflection, responds, "Non, pas tout a fait" "No, not
completely" (96, 119). And indeed her mental state improves
considerably while she is staying among the maroons.
Admittedly, the ebb and flow of Solitude's zombie-ism (in the later
stages of the novel especially) seems less voluntary than reactive.
Whether it shows itself in sullenness or violence, it is most often
triggered by confrontations with enemies. However, an argument can
still be made for a positive reading of these withdrawals. For through
them Solitude gains not only immunity from the strains of servitude,
but also courage and power, as seen, for example, in the passage I
quoted early on in which she throws herself at men and dogs, heroically
brandishing her cutlass.
Of note as well is the non-singularity of the zombie response as
treated in the text. In one representative passage, for example, Schwarz-
Barz describes the response of several former slaves as they are being
re-captured. He writes:
Mais tous etaient 6galement gris de fatigue, les yeux fidvreux, soldats ou
negres des champs, citoyens mulatres, chabins, humbles et silencieux
Congos; et tous avaient le meme air de vertige sur leurs traits, d'angoisse,
de douleur vague et impersonnelle, comme s'ils ne s'appartenaient plus,
ddja, se percevaient entire les grandes mains invisibles des hommes
AARON C. EASTLEY
All were wild-eyed and grey with fatigue, soldiers and field niggers,
mulatto citizens, and humble, silent Congos; all had the same look of
terror and bewilderment, of vague, impersonal suffering, as though
they no longer belonged to themselves and already saw themselves
in the big invisible hands of the white men. (157)
Just as Solitude's "crab-eyes" are connected with those of others, here
the zombie response is shown to be more than just a singular response
by Solitude to the oppression of slavery. In both cases, in fact, Schwarz-
Bart takes great care to illustrate that Solitude's responses are not
Obviously, however, the generality of his vision does not save
Schwarz-Bart from the critique of those who feel that only a vocal,
courageous, absolutely self-aware Solitude is of worth to modern
audiences. Nor are such critics silenced by the argument that Solitude
withdraws into zombie-ism only under great duress, that her retreat is
an act of both self-preservation and self-determination. In order to be
wholly politically satisfactory, perhaps, Solitude must be depicted as
a woman fully the equal of the enemies she opposes, and to represent
her as anything less is a betrayal.
Returning, then, to the question with which I began, why does Andre
Schwarz-Bart choose to render Solitude as ambiguously as he has
done-especially considering the several very different representations
constructed by others? Could it be that Schwarz-Bart, a fair skinned
man born far from the Caribbean, has sexist and racist/colonialist
leanings? His unique representation combined with an outsider's
authorial position may be enough to arouse reader suspicion, even
among scholars rightly trained to shun essentialist readings.
Such an interpretation, however, hardly fits with either the details
of the novel or the details of Schwarz-Bart's own life. As Kathleen
Gyssels has written, "Andre Schwarz-Bart 6prouve une profonde
sympathie pour les Antillais (particulierement ceux qu'il frequentait a
Paris, oi) il rencontra la jeune Guadeloupeenne qui allait devenir son
spouse et son co-auteur) ..." "Andre Schwarz-Bart feels deep sympathy
for West Indians (particularly those with whom he associated in Paris,
where he met the young Guadeloupean woman who would become his
wife and his co-author)..." (788). Certainly a person with such feelings
and personal connections would not choose to be unfairly negative,
nor is Solitude the sort of text one would produce in order to vent
prejudices. Schwarz-Bart, however, seems to have been aware of the
potential political criticisms his text might provoke, and perhaps for
SHAPING A SYMBOL
this reason he himself goes out of his way to provide in the text an
answer to the question "Why?"
Schwarz-Bart's representative choices, apparently, were largely
determined by Guadeloupean oral traditions. As he explicitly states
immediately following his first description of Solitude's zombie-ism:
Selon une tradition orale, encore vivace a la C6te-sous-le-Vent, du c6te
des pitons de Deshaies, c'est vers l'age onze ans que la petite fille de
Bayangumay [Solitude] tourna en zombi-cornes" "According to an oral
tradition, still living on the Cote-sous-le-Vent, not far from the peaks of
Deshaies, Bayangumay's little girl was about eleven when she turned
into a zombie" (74, 88). Furthermore, as if to emphasize that this is a
local view and not merely his own interpretation, Schwarz-Bart goes
on to include an extended description of the Guadeloupean beliefs
regarding zombie-ism, saying: "En ce temps-la, disent les vieux contours
crdoles, la malediction etait sur le dos du negre et le talonnait sans arrit;
on se couchait avec tout son esprit pour se riveiller chien, crapaud de
mares ou zombi ..." "At that time, say the old Creole storytellers, the
black people were pursued by an evil spirit; a man would go to bed in
his right mind and when he woke up he would be a dog, a toad, or a
zombie ..." In this passage Schwarz-Bart further attributes the idea of
possession by animals to venerable local storytellers. And returning
after several lines to the zombie theme, Schwarz-Bart concludes: "Les
zombi-cornes talentt tout simplement des personnel que leur ame avait
abandonnees; ils demeuraient vivants, mais l'dme n'y etait plus."
"Zombies were simply humans whose souls had deserted them; they
were still alive, but the soul was gone" (74, 89). These ideas, apparently,
were his inspiration. And having taken the legend of Solitude's zombie-
ism as a starting point, Schwarz-Bart actually does a great deal to add
positive depth and complexity to the psyche of Solitude.
In conclusion, Schwarz-Bart makes a point of repeatedly emphasizing
that he is indeed merely a teller, not the originator, of the story of
Solitude. For example, in addition to his fairly lengthy qualifying
remarks following Solitude's first change, he also interjects a very brief
but important qualifier at a later key moment. As Solitude supposedly
unwittingly first takes command of her little band ("Sans le vouloir,
sans mime le savoir" "Without meaning to, without even knowing what
she was doing"), Schwarz-Bart interjects the qualifier "dit-on, ""or so it
is said," effectually throwing his own opinion of this and other related
plot details into question (110, 138).
Certainly, of course, Schwarz-Bart could have rewritten the
traditional story, as Zimra suggests that his wife and co-writer, Simone,
AARON C. EASTLEY
and others have done. Indeed, no less a literary figure than Maryse
Cond6 chose to turn from tradition in her play depicting Solitude, An
Tan revolysion (Kadish 217). This, however, is a choice he did not
make-perhaps because he did not wish to contradict a tradition not
Whatever the elusive "truth" may be (and each reader must obviously
reach their own verdict here), the importance of Schwarz-Bart's
portrayal remains. For especially with the reprinting in 2001 of the
English translation of the novel, for better or worse Solitude will likely
be known primarily through Schwarz-Bart's text for years to come. How
this will affect her symbolic influence is uncertain. Thankfully, however,
as I have attempted to show here, in its integrity, complexity, and human
sympathy, Schwarz-Bart's representation may not be nearly so
symbolically or politically unavailing as it may at first appear to critics.
For Solitude's madness as represented by Schwarz-Bart is indeed an
effectual madness. In its several forms, it is a madness matched to her
challenging circumstances, circumstances in which the virtue of being
a changeling vividly appears. She is, at various times and in various
necessities, able to live two lives at once, or to withdraw from life
altogether, or to fight with phenomenal strength, courage and power.
A symbolic figure so shaped seems both humanly familiar and heroically
resourceful-a fine candidate for political inspiration indeed.
SHAPING A SYMBOL 43
Bruner, Charlotte H. "A Caribbean Madness: Half Slave and Half Free."
Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de
Litterature Comparee 11.2 (June 1984): 236-48.
Gautier, Arlette. Les Soeurs de Solitude: La Condition Feminine dans I'esclave
aux Antilles de XVII au XIX Siecle. Paris: Editions Carib6ennes, 1985.
Gyssels, Kathleen. "L'ldentit6 F6minine et L'Espace Clos dans le Roman
Carib6en: L'Oeuvre de Simone et Andr6 Schwarz-Bart et de Beryl
Gilroy." Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne
de Litterature Compared 22.3-4 (Sept.-Dec. 1995): 787-801.
Kadish, Doris Y. "Maryse Cond6 and Slavery." Slavery in the Caribbean
Francophone World: Distant Voices, Forgotten Acts, Forged Identities.
Doris Y. Kadish, ed. Athens and London: U. of Georgia Press, 2000.
Pineau, Gisele and Marie Abraham. Femmes des Antilles: Traces et Voix.
Paris: Stock, 1995.
Schwarz-Bart, Andre. La mulatresse Solitude: Roman. Paris: Editions du Seuil,
A Woman Named Solitude. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New York:
Syracuse UP, 2001.
Zimra, Clarisse. "What's in a Name: Elective Genealogy in Schwarz-Bart's
Early Novels." Studies in 20t' Century Literature: Contemporary Feminist
Writing in French 17.1 (Winter 1993): 97-118.
Literary Revolution and Decolonisation
in Louise Bennett's Poetry'
Joseph T. Farquharson
he Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverly (or Miss Lou, as she is
affectionately called), has been dubbed Jamaica's leading
folklorist, but such a broad term serves only to obscure the
interesting and dynamic career which Bennett built over many years,
as she watched and aided our young nation in its growth. Her career
of over five decades spans areas such as print and electronic journalism,
teaching, musical composition, singing, acting, playwriting, directing,
story writing, and poetry. Bennett is lauded as a 'jack-of-all-trades,'
and she has managed to master quite a few, while leaving an indelible
impression in the hearts and minds of thousands of Jamaicans. It is for
her poetry that she is most famous (infamous?), because her verses,
which are all written in Jamaican Creole [JC] (Patois, Jamaica Talk,
Jamaican Dialect) reveal the cunning defiance of a poet, one not willing
to be defined and bound by European standards.
Unfortunately, when she started writing Jamaican poetry in Creole
she was vehemently opposed and rejected, hence it would not be
This article is a revised version of the paper "Literary Revolution and
Decolonisation: The Value and Impact of Louise Bennett's Poetry," which was
presented at the biennial conference of the Association of Caribbean Women's
Writers and Scholars, held in Martinique 2002.
JOSEPH T. FARQUHARSON
inappropriate to say that Bennett wrote in linguistic and cultural exile;
for despite her writing in a country whose population for the large
part shared her African ancestry, she was estranged because she
promoted a hybrid language and culture which were viewed as corrupt,
and the promulgators of such corruptions were worthy of punishment.
She frequently recalls the fact that she was never invited to a Jamaican
Poetry League meeting, and she was not included in the Edna Manley
edited anthology, Focus, nor McFarlane's critical work, A Literature in
the Making (1956). Delia Jarrett-Macauley states that "The case of Louise
Bennett, the marvellous oral poet, is the most striking. Although she
had published Dialect Verse in 1942, it was not until 1967, when the
Oxford-trained critic Mervyn Morris2 wrote his persuasive essay, 'On
Reading Louise Bennett, Seriously', that attitudes towards the
vernacular started to change." This uncovers the lagging colonial
mentality of not accepting anything unless it is approved by
foreignerss. Bennett herself comments on her literary exile:
I have been set apart by other creative writers a long time ago because
of the language I speak and work in. From the beginning nobody ever
recognized me as a writer. "Well, she is 'doing' dialect;" it wasn't even
writing you know. Up to now a lot of people don't even think I write.
They say, "Oh, you just stand up and say these things!" (Scott 98)
Nonetheless, we will soon see how she skilfully used the same thing
for which she was ostracised (i.e. language) to make an ingrained
impression on the national consciousness.
The Poetics of Bennett
It is worth noting that the form Bennett uses lends itself to a
contagious musicality, a quality which is shared by the Creole, and put
2 Morris is indubitably the pioneer in criticism on Bennettian poetry and we
cannot downplay the significant role he has played in changing public opinion of
her work. Nettleford's appraisal of Bennett's poetry takes the form of regular
references to her in his writings, and his introduction to Jamaica Labrish, which
are insightful, but tend to be too general to reveal the true value of the poetry. By
far, Cooper's three articles: 'That Cunny Jamma Oman': The Female Sensibility in
the Poetry of Louise Bennett", "'Noh Lickle Twang': An Introduction to the Poetry
of Louise Bennett", and "Proverb as Metaphor in the Poetry of Louise Bennett,"
have skilfully revealed the potential that exists for serious study of Bennett's poetry.
LITERARY REVOLUTION AND DECOLONISATION IN LOUISE BENNETT'S POETRY 47
to optimal use by the poet.3 While some critics agree that Louise Bennett
employed a variety of the ballad stanza (ballad quatrain) in the
composition of her verses, Mervyn Morris begs to differ and opines
that such a classification would cause the exceptions to outnumber
the norm. The ballad stanza is "a quatrain in alternate four- and three-
stress iambic lines, in which only the second and fourth lines rhyme"
(Abrams 13). According to Morris, "what she quite often employs is a
quatrain in which eight syllables are followed by six, with the rhyme
scheme abcb. An extra syllable here, a syllable short there, need hardly
cause a flutter; especially as, even more reliably, each pair of lines tends
to have fourteen syllables (or their equivalent in time)" (SP4 xiv).
I am inclined to concur with Morris because Bennett's poetry on the
whole seems to have little to do with iambic stress patterns, and to
force her into such a mould would be erroneous. Bennett herself does
admit to having been exposed at an early age mostly to the works of
English poets, and being 'greatly influenced' by their rhythms and
techniques (Scott 99). However, she has written in the spirit and not in
the letter of the ballad form and has aptly captured the fiery soul and
vivacious character of JC speakers in real life situations.
The Battle for Legitimacy: Bennett as Revolutionary
While she now receives numerous accolades during her retirement,
this was not always the case, as she and her work were seen as a local
joke. Nettleford reports in Mirror Mirror that she, "has long been
regarded as little more than a spinner of jingles and (gratuitously) a
first-rate entertainer" (193). No wonder Morris is the first critical
appraisal of Bennett's poetry entitled it: "On Reading Louise Bennett,
Seriously" [my emphasis]. Morris' title announced a counteraction to
the societal perception of Miss Lou's work at the time i.e. it was not
serious and definitely not 'literature' because it was not penned in the
Queen's English. When Louise started writing poetry in Creole, Jamaica
3 Taking this issue of musicality a step further, Louise Bennett has put some of
her verses to music and laid the foundations for what is today the budding field of
dub poetry, and practitioners such as Mutabaruka, Linton Kwesi Johnson, the late
Mickey Smith, Oka Onouro, and Lillian Allen pay tribute to Bennett in this regard.
4 Throughout this article the abbreviations JL and SP will be used to refer to
Jamaica Labrish and Selected Poems respectively.
JOSEPH T. FARQUHARSON
was still under British rule, and for any writer to have produced in a
language other than Standard English (SE), let alone Creole, was totally
absurd if not suicidal. Nevertheless, our poet was convinced that the
language of the masses was capable of containing the ancient art of
poetry and that the common people could develop an appreciation
and understanding of poetry if it were composed in the variety he or
As another main point of attack, her fiercest critics have dismissed
the notion of her work as 'legitimate' literature on the basis that a large
quantity of her verse was created for performance (i.e. stage and radio)
and she has constantly had to remind them that she started writing
before she started performing. This claim of illegitimacy would
indubitably suggest that literature cannot originate as orature, and vice
versa. This would totally 'illegitimise' drama as literature, because it is
essentially a performance-oriented art not a scribal one. Morris in
"Louise Bennett in Print" (1982) has provided an effective rebuttal to
this notion so I need not spend time on it.
Bennett's conscious decision to use JC in writing poetry testifies to
her unstinting belief in, and pride for the creative expression of the
masses. Although the Creole is a product of slavery and colonisation,
the poet employs it as a medium for empowering the dispossessed, by
holding it up as one of those things that is undeniably ours. She views
the Creole as a legitimate language with its very roots in Africa, an idea
somewhat along the lines of that expressed by Grace Nichols in
I have crossed an ocean
I have lost my tongue
from the root of the old one
a new one has sprung.
Even as she celebrated fifty years of participation in the Arts, the
people's poet could not evade the urge to mention the development
with regards to attitudes towards the vernacular:
For Jamaica talk was less-counted
But now Jamma talk tun "Culture"
An' Jamaica Culture dah flow -
Miss Lou, like all good writers has a message to convey, but while
other writers were busy trying desperately to get the over-lords to
LITERARY REVOLUTION AND DECOLONISATION IN LOUISE BENNETT'S POETRY 49
listen to them, her target audience was not the colonisers but the
colonised. She was concerned with the joys/sorrows, triumphs/defeats,
and vice/virtue of the common man.
While her contemporaries struggled with the white man's linguistic
burden, and endeavoured to convey their messages) to the imperialists
in the latter's own linguistic code, Bennett was preoccupied with getting
the message out to the common folk. Bennett corroborated this view
in an interview with Lilieth Lejo Bailey when she said "if I can get
Jamaicans to understand what I mean, that's all I want." As a
consequence, she encoded her message in the linguistic variety that the
majority of the populace could decode with little effort. This in itself
was definitely a revolutionary move, because no writer in her right
mind would have conceived of writing for the oppressed. The two
principle misconceptions of the time were: (i) that the populace
comprised illiterate persons who could not appreciate poetry and that;
(ii) the "bastard tongue" which they spoke could not support the
sacrosanct art of poetry. Louise has thrown these philistine ideas in
their faces and her outstanding career bears testimony to the people's
ability to appreciate and understand poetry, and the Creole's potential
to be employed in serious literature. Not surprisingly, Dennis Scott
hailed her as "the only poet who really hit the truth about the society
through its own language" (qtd. in JL 9).
Interestingly, William Wordsworth, in his introduction to Lyrical
Ballads a little over two hundred years ago stated that, "Since the poet
is a man speaking to men [Please forgive Wordsworth for his male-
chauvinism!], responding, though in a more sensitive way, to common
human experiences, his language should not differ substantially from
that of real men under-going real experiences. The poet thinks and
feels in the spirit of human passions. How, then, can his language
differ in any material degree from that of all other men who feel
vividly and see clearly?" [my emphasis]
Without a doubt, one ought to wonder what would cause Louise
Bennett to go against the literary traditions of her time by employing a
low-prestige variety in writing poetry. As a young girl growing up in
Jamaica, she was struck by the fact that "more of our poets and writers
were not taking an interest in the kind of language usage and the kind
of experiences of living which were all around us, and writing in this
medium of dialect instead of writing in the same old English way about
Autumn and things like that" (Scott 99). By using Creole, Bennett
demarcated her audience. The choice signalled explicitly that her
verses were not for the colonisers but for the colonised.
50 JOSEPH T. FARQUHARSON
At the same time, it may be surprising to learn that Bennett is not
the originator of "Jamaican-poetry-in-creole"; she had forerunners such
as Tom Redcam, Una Marson and Claude McKay. However, it is she
who expands and gives prominence to the style. She, like so many
other revolutionaries, was not the one who conceived of the revolution,
but she took the idea and ran with it and became for many decades a
one-woman army determined to defeat the forces of negativity where
the vernacular and its potential were concerned.
By employing JC to produce literature, Bennett created ripples that
have now grown into tidal waves, waves which are beating back the
ships of linguistic bigotry. Such widespread use in verse of a linguistic
variety which was perceived as a reduced/simplified/bastardised form
of Standard English (SE) was beyond a doubt a revolutionary move
because one woman thought that "for too long, it was considered not
respectable to use the dialect. Because there was a social stigma
attached to the kind of person who used dialect habitually. Many people
still do not accept the fact that for us there are many things which are
best said in the language of the 'common man"' (Scott 101). Miss Lou
made this statement in the late 1960s, and one must admit that some
of the stigma is still there, but her pioneering work has effected in
many persons an attitudinal change towards creole. Its use in literature,
the mass media, and corporate society is on the increase.
Decolonisation: Identity and Linguistic Rehabilitation
As I move into the second section, I must point out that this paper
does not pretend to be exhaustive since obviously, I cannot cover the
total value and impact of Bennett's poetry in one paper. This second
section will focus on her treatment of languages] and its decolonising
You might ask why look at 'language' as a theme especially within
the context of decolonisation? Ashcroft et. al. comments on the
importance of language to the hegemonic colonial system:
One of the main features of imperial oppression is control over
language. The imperial education system installs a 'standard' version
of the metropolitan language as the norm, and marginalizes all other
'variants' as impurities. (7)
Bennett skilfully utilises language as an instrument of decolonisation.
The first and most obvious point is that she has chosen to present her
LITERARY REVOLUTION AND DECOLONISATION IN LOUISE BENNETT'S POETRY 51
verses in JC instead of SE. This defiance is further illustrated by what
she actually says about languagess; she praises Creole, parodies
European languages and mocks Jamaicans who speaky-spoky/twang
(put on airs) while speaking English. We can place Bennett's poems on
language issues into three categories based on whether they deal with:
(i) attitudes towards the vernacular (ii) attitudes towards English; or
(iii) attitudes towards foreign languages.
The poems "Amy Son" and "Gay Paree" are parodies of the Spanish
and French languages respectively. "Amy Son" is an account of Amy's
son whose return to Kingston from Panama has caused quite a stir
because he has not only returned with new-found (material) wealth,
but also with a new language Spanish: "Him bring back bed, him bring
gole teet, / Him bring back Spanish Twang" (JL 7-8). What is truly
revealing about the persona's account, is her judgment of the boy's
current social status: "De bwoy improve soh till him kean/ Memba
nobody name" (JL 9-10). Despite the fact that the persona clearly does
not understand Spanish, she is awed by the young man's control and
usage of the language and admires the way in which he punctuates his
conversation with Spanish phrases. However, readers familiar with
Spanish will realise that the boy's Spanish is atrocious to say the least,
but it has helped him to earn social respectability and admiration
among an unlettered crowd.
In "Gay Paree" the persona, having just returned home, relates to
her friend her adventures in Gay Paree, France and seizes the
opportunity to reveal that she has returned with something new -
French! She recounts the anecdotal incident which transpired very
soon after she and her friend Mary landed in France; and the difficulty
they had in transcending the language barrier. We must not dismiss
as mere comedy the anecdote in the poem because it uncovers some
very salient points about the narrator's self-consciousness. Her
exclamation of "Me naw go stan fe i" (48), is an indication that she has
decided not to be outdone or overpowered, whether linguistically or
otherwise by the French. This brings forward the paradoxical attitude
of Jamaicans who think that the Creole is inferior but use it when they
go abroad as an identity marker. It is noticeable that she uses her
language as a counterattack ("An me leggo English pon dem"). However,
her conscious decision to settle down and learn the language is in direct
contradistinction to her earlier defiance not to be linguistically outdone:
Den me sey me want fe learn i too,
Me haffe buckle dung,
52 JOSEPH T. FARQUHARSON
Screw up me mout an roll me y'eye
An foreign up me tongue. (JL 57-60)
The speakers in "Gay Paree" and "Amy Son" are convinced that their
acquisition of a new tongue highlights them as intellectually and
culturally above the common folk. It is however in "Noh Lickle Twang!"
that we get a true picture of what is really going on (i.e. why these
speakers are so preoccupied with the whole business of speaking a
foreign language). The speaker is an irate mother who is disappointed
that her son has returned from "Merica" after six whole months and
has nothing to show for it. In the absence of material wealth she is
surprised that the boy has not even come back with the commodity
that all Jamaicans are expected to take back a foreign accent (Not
even lickle language, bwoy? / Not even lickle twang?" [SP 11-12]).
Implicit in this statement is the perception that Creole is not a language,
and society would have marked the acquisition of English or at least
the twang as a sure sign of improvement. The speaker is quite aware of
the social implications of one coming back just as one left and predicts
derision from the rest of society for her son who has come back empty-
handed and 'empty-tongued'.
While Jamaicans are fascinated with twangs, those who do it in
extremis are most often the victims of ridicule, just like Cudjoe Scoop
in "Dry-Foot Bwoy." It is interesting that Amy's son was admired for
his use of Spanish and the persona in "Gay Paree" considered her French
a sign of her 'good brains'; however, Cudjoe Scoop is seen as a 'show-
off'. We cannot ignore that Cudjoe Scoop has returned with an Oxbridge
accent as Nettleford informs us. Compare this with the approval of
the American accent in "Noh Lickle Twang" and we might be seeing a
covert form of linguistic resistance in preferring an American (land of
opportunities) twang, as opposed to a British (colonisers) twang. These
poems reveal the linguistic dialectic that exists in Jamaica, a former
colony with a people who still use 'foreign' as the measuring stick for
everything and are still psychologically linked to the colonialists.
"Bans a Killin" is a witty and poignant defence of JC ('dialec'). The
persona seems to be quite learned and quite well-read,5 and utilises
'"Bans 0 Killing" is a spirited counterattack on those who would "kill" or
eradicate the use of dialect, and it is also a pointed reminder that in the large
linguistic scheme of things English itself is another dialect, neither inferior nor
superior to its Jamaican counterpart" (Brown 109).
LITERARY REVOLUTION AND DECOLONISATION IN LOUISE BENNETT'S POETRY 53
her knowledge to counteract Mas Charlie who thinks that Creole is
inferior and has sworn to eradicate it:
Ah yuh dem seh dah teck
Whole heap a English oat seh dat
Yuh gwine kill dialec! (SP 2-4)
The speaker by quoting numerous examples endeavours to show
Mas Charlie that English was once considered a dialect and that five
hundred years has only served to produce more English dialects. She
raises the all too important question of why her interlocutor only
disdains JC and totally ignores dialects such as Lancashire, Yorkshire,
Cockney, 'broad Scotch' and 'Irish brogue.' The argument is that any
criterion that would dismiss JC as a language would also dismiss the
other dialects of English:
Ef yuh dah equal up wid English
Language, den wha meck
Yuh gwine go feel inferior when
It come to dialec? (SP 9-12)
In all these poems, Bennett has dealt consistently with the attitude of
Jamaicans to languagess. Our poet, being fully cognisant of how effectively
language attitudes reveal attitude towards self, has parodied the common
people and their response to issues of language. Although one cannot
ignore the comic nature of much of her verse, she cunningly employs
comedy to get the society to laugh at its ills and then take a second
look at its actions. Poetry is used as a kind of therapy, a rehabilitative
measure for a society debilitated by the disease of colonialism. The
language one speaks does not determine what one thinks about, but is
psychologically linked to the way one perceives oneself.
Therefore, all her characters (except the one in "Bans a Killin")
believe that they are linguistically deficient [i.e. they do not have a
language] and the total or partial acquisition of English, Spanish, or
French is an indication of improvement from a 'languageless' state.
Rejection of one's vernacular displays an equal rejection of one's true
identity and Bennett knew too well that the process of decolonisation
must be accompanied by linguistic rehabilitation (i.e. a campaign to
reclaim the mother tongue of the masses).
Ashcroft et. al. in The Empire Writes Back reminds us that "Language
becomes the medium through which a hierarchical structure of power
54 JOSEPH T. FARQUHARSON
is perpetuated, and the medium through which conceptions of 'truth,'
'order,' and 'reality' become established" (7). Louise Bennett through
her poetry has sought to go against the thwarted colonial perceptions
of what is considered established 'truth' 'order' and 'reality.' These
'realities' are evident in the attitudes towards the language of the
colonised. Bennett, as a way of freeing her people from the
psychological inferiority which accompanies the linguistic patriarchy
and bigotry of colonialism, revolutionised the canon of her country by
writing in the language of the oppressed. Through her poetry she has
demonstrated that despite being a daughter of the misunderstood
Caliban (by descent), the vestiges of his psychological inferiority have
not been filtered down to her. Her revolution was made more effective
by her attempts in verse to decolonise the masses showing up their
backward mentality towards their own nation language. She
appropriately summed it up with the statement: "my main thing was
to make people respect their language" (Bailey). She promulgated the
legitimacy and potential of the Creole and focused on the bond which
it could create among Jamaicans, regardless of age, social class, religion,
The value and impact of Bennett's work is far-reaching, because there
is now a more widespread acceptance of JC which is evident in its
increasing use in print and electronic media. The literary revolution
and decolonisation that she started is still going on and history will
not absolve her. Indubitably, Bennett is the poet who speaks on behalf
of her own people; for those who have no voice; for those who have
lost their tongue; for those who hate, or are afraid to hear their own
voices telling their own stories. Her poetry represents a reclaiming of
the mother tongue, and to reclaim the mother tongue is to throw the
hegemonic social system into utter confusion.
Bennett's writing appears "to be generated as dialogical responses to the new
vocalism of the mass of Jamaicans as they struggled toward independence...by
using nation language, [she] spoke for Jamaican culture against the colonialism of
the dominant class and its educational and cultural apparatus" (Erwin 133).
LITERARY REVOLUTION AND DECOLONISATION IN LOUISE BENNETT'S POETRY 55
Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Ashcroft, Bill; Gareth Griffiths; and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back:
Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures. London: Routledge,
Bailey, Lilieth Lejo. "We are all Contributing to Life: A Chat with Louise
Bennett." Caribbean Writer. 12 (1992).
Bennett, Louise. Jamaica Labrish. Rex Nettleford (ed.) Kingston: Sangster's
Book Stores, 1996.
Bennett, Louise. Selected Poems. Mervyn Morris (ed.) Kingston: Sangster's
Book Stores, 1996.
Brown, Lloyd. West Indian Poetry. Boston: Twayne & G. K. Hall, 1978.
Cooper, Carolyn. "Proverbs as Metaphor in the Poetry of Louise Bennett."
Jamaica Journal 17.2 (1984).
Erwin, Lee. "Two Jamaican Women Writers and the Uses of Creole."
Commonwealth and American Women 's Discourse: Essays in Criticism.
A. L. McLeod (ed.) New Dehli: Sterling Publishers, 1996.
Jarrett-Macauley, Delia. The Life and Times of Una Marson: 1905-65.
Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998.
Morris, Mervyn. "Louise Bennett in Print." Caribbean Quarterly 28. 1 & 2,
Morris Mervyn. "On Reading Louise Bennett, Seriously." Jamaica Journal
Narain, Denise de Caires. "Caribbean Creole: The Real Thing? Writing and
Reading the Creole in a Selection of Caribbean Women's Texts."
Reading the 'New' Literature in a Postcolonial Era. Susheila Nasta (ed.)
Cambridge: The English Association, 2000.
Nettleford, Rex. Mirror Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica. Kingston:
Kingston Publishers, 1998.
Scott, Dennis. "Bennett on Bennett." Interview with Louise Bennett in
Caribbean Quarterly 14. 1 & 2, 1968.
Defining the Target Language
in Language Genesis
Richard J. File-Muriel
Prior work has looked at creolization in terms of imperfect L2
learning (Ferguson and DeBose 1977, Shuman 1978, Andersen
1979, 1980, Siegel 1997, and Thomason and Kaufman 1988). The
theory of imperfect second language learning posits that pidgins are
primarily the result of imperfect L2 learning of a dominant lexifier
language by the creole forming population (CFP). Besten, Muysken,
and Smith (in Arends et al. 1994:97-8) conclude that although not all
features of creoles can be explained by appealing to imperfect L2
learning, it plays an important role. The commonly held belief is that
creoles result from "the crystallization of some stage in the
developmental sequence of second language acquisition"(10). In other
words, the CFP faced with insufficient input, has to create a system of
communication, which approximates the language of the dominant
group. Under such a view, creoles are formed by the failure of CFP
speakers to completely acquire a given target linguistic model
(generally the model of the group in power). This paper will be divided
into the following sections: In section 1, I1 will review what claims have
been made regarding SLA and pidginization and show how their premise
lies in the assumption that the target language of the CFP was the lexifier
language (i.e. the language of the dominant group). 2. I1 will follow Baker
58 RICHARD J. FILE-MURIEL
(1990) and suggest that the assumption that the European language
was the target language in most plantation slave-societies may be
flawed. Furthermore, if the European language cannot be definitely
established as the target language, the term 'imperfect learning' does
not adequately describe the process of creole genesis. 3. I will look at
work done on Palenquero (Schwegler 1997, 1999, Patifio Roselli 1999,
Lipski and Schwegler 1993) based on the creativist model of
pidginization (Baker 1990) and attempt to answer the following
questions: What was the TL for the community of Palenque? Is
imperfect learning of some pre-existing language an appropriate
description for the formation of Palenquero?l
1. Literature review
Ferguson & DeBose (1977), henceforth F&D, see pidginization as a
process that accepts normal language as input and produces a reduced,
hybridized, and unstable variety of language as output. This unstable
variety is identified as Broken Language (BL) when used by non-native
speakers and Simplified Register (SR) when used by native speakers.
SRs (e.g. baby talk, Foreigner Talk, etc.) are used by native speakers to
address those thought to have less-than-normal competence in the
language. These registers show simplification processes, which are
modifications intended to make utterances easier to perceive,
understand, or produce by omitting material, reducing irregularity, and
making sound-meaning correspondences more transparent. BL is used
by non-native speakers to address native speakers and/or non-native
speakers who do not share the same natural language. A pidgin, then,
is the output that results from the communicative interaction between
native and non-native speakers in a particular contact situation.
F&D note that the modifications typical of SR and the imperfect
approximations that characterize BL are similar in many respects, and
it is often impossible to distinguish between texts of these two registers
without diachronic or variational information about the reference
languagess. While the characteristics of SR have been claimed to
represent universal tendencies (i.e. speakers of different languages
I would like to thank J. Clancy Clements and Don Walicek for their comments
on previous versions of this paper. I claim all responsibility for any of its
DEFINING THE TARGET LANGUAGE IN LANGUAGE GENESIS
simplify their languages in the same way), the variation that exists
among different speech communities also shows that SRs are, to a
certain extent, conventionalized and language-specific. Conventionality
is most evident in phonological and lexical characteristics, while
universal aspects are most notable in prosodic and syntactic
The interaction of FT and BL can be seen as a summation of elements
of both in which features that appear in both are more likely to appear
in the resulting norms of communication (i.e. the pidgin). F&D see the
interaction between these two registers as a rather complex process
of mutual accommodation: "The speaker of A who is using his FT in
talking to a speaker of B may adjust his FT to the latter's BL to an
extent not found in other uses of simplified registers [such as BT to a
child where there is an obvious pedagogical concern], similarly, the
FT that the speaker of B hears may be the source of features in his BL
that he would not have heard from normal A"(1997:102).
F&D define pidginization as the rapid structural modification of a
language in contact situations in which it serves both as the target of
broken language and the source of foreigner talk. It is generally limited
to situations in which the structural change is relatively rapid, resulting
from the communicative interaction between native and non-native
speakers of the common source/ target language. According to F&D,
the ideal pidgin, in effect, reduces or simplifies the TL presumably based
on some universal constraints of simplicity and then maps it onto the
learner's LI. According to F&D, pidgins are reduced, hybridized versions
of a source language (target language).
F&D stress the importance of appealing to the notion of
interlanguage. Acquisition takes place gradually and is characterized
by successive changes in the learner's knowledge of the target language
(TL). At any point in the speaker's development, s/he has a partial
linguistic system, which approximates the TL. This system can be
looked at in terms of an approximative system (Nemser 1971) or an
interlanguage (Selinker 1972). The observations made in light of these
systems may answer questions about the nature of human language
and language acquisition.
According to F&D's model, FT is the target language to be acquired.
Bickerton (1977) put forth the restricted input hypothesis, claiming
that pidginization is L2 learning with restricted input while creolization
is LI learning with restricted input. He holds that the first native speakers
of the creole learned whatever variety of pidgin that the CFP spoke,
RICHARD J. FILE-MURIEL
but applied their language faculty to convert the system into a full
natural language (i.e. a creole).
Schumann (1978) and Andersen (1980) hold that pidginization is
characteristic of early second language acquisition in general. They
claim that individual pidginization in early SLA persists when the learner
is deprived of sufficient input from native speakers of the TL due to
social, psychological, or physical distance from such speakers. In other
words, pidginization is second language learning with restricted input.
Andersen claims that restricted input is what promotes and prolongs
The factors that promote pidginization and cause it to persist, cut
the learner off from adequate native input that he needs in order to
learn to express himself in that language. Under these conditions the
learner can, and certainly does, simply do without expressing certain
meanings in the L2. But learners also create their own form-meaning
relations in the L2 by making previously-learned forms take on the
functions for which the learner has not acquired the TL forms
Andersen proposes a language acquisition model for pidginization,
depidginization, creolization, decreolization, and first and second
language acquisition based partially on Schumann's 1978 revised model.
Andersen treats pidginization, creolization, and early stages of first
and second language acquisition as nativization or acquisition towards
an internal norm, and depidginization, decreolization, and later stages
of first and second language acquisition as denativization or acquisition
towards an external norm. He also distinguishes between individual
and group learning: Individual pidginization arises when the individual
language learner processes linguistic input during SLA. Group
pidginization, on the other hand, results from the communication of
individual speakers who are undergoing individual pidginization. He
concludes, that SLA and individual pidginization are really the same
phenomenon, only the circumstances are different.
Siegel (1997) notes that when social conditions are 'right,' leveling
may occur in several ways. Gradual leveling results from a series of
accommodation processes where people modify their speech by
adapting to the speech of others. In other words, "dialect differences
are reduced as speakers acquire features from other varieties as well
as avoid features from their own variety that are somehow
different"(128). He emphasizes the importance of child learners in
DEFINING THE TARGET LANGUAGE IN LANGUAGE GENESIS 61
accelerating the process: "...as children are born into the community
where they hear not only the dialects of their parents but also the
mixture being used around them. Here the children acquire only some
features and not others, and thus leveling and stabilization is
Siegel looks at pidginization in terms of SLA and leveling processes.
He claims that the processes involved in the early stages of SLA are
responsible for a good portion of the features found in pidgins. The
characteristics of the two groups join a pool of variants used by different
individuals for intergroup communication. When communication is
successful, further SLA is not necessary. In that sense, Siegel is saying
that there is fossilization at a certain stage of acquisition. He points
out that conventions in the use of these variants begin to emerge, giving
way to a process of leveling. Some variants are eliminated and others
are retained presumably based on universal principles of markedness.
The end result may be a stabilized pidgin.
Siegel argues that the processes involved in the early stages of SLA
are responsible for some of the features found in pidgins (and some
creoles). Much can be learned about pidgin genesis in terms of the
origins of various pidgin features by considering the processes and
strategies (e.g. reduction, transfer and restructuring) clearly
documented in SLA studies. Once that is accepted, we can move on to
an explanation about how the efforts of two groups to acquire a little
of the language of the other can fuse into a single pidgin. First lexical
items are learned from a given language, usually privileged due to some
uneven power relation. When they are put together, it is done with
typical interlanguage features, such as absence of bound morphology,
lack of copula, etc. as well as transferred features from the first
languages. These ways of speaking both languages join a pool of variants
used by different individuals for intergroup communication.
Communication using these variants is successful in the limited
contexts where it is required, and therefore, further SLA is not
necessary. In some social circumstances, however, conventions begin
to emerge. This is the beginning of leveling: the elimination of some
variants and the retention of others. The end result may be a stabilized
pidgin. SLA accounts for the origins of a large proportion of the features
of a pidgin, but leveling accounts for the formation of the pidgin out of
the highly variable pre-pidgin. SLA is an individual process, whereas
leveling (or stabilization) is a community process.
Thomason and Kaufman (T&K 1988:150) see the development of
pidgins as similar to the results of other language contact situations.
62 RICHARD J. FILE-MURIEI.
Pidginization and abrupt creolization are instances of language shift.
The key issue is what serves as the target language for the CFP to shift
to. T&K note that a social context is created whereby the emerging
contact language (i.e. the system used by the CFP) is the primary
language system of the community. Adults acquire this system as a
second language and the community's children acquire it as a first
language.2 But T&K's stance on the TL remains unclear. In T&K's model,
the CFP would shift away from its native languages to the language of
the slave masters, which formed part of the emerging primary language.
These speakers first adopted TL vocabulary and thereafter its grammar
to the extent that it was available, which was probably restricted due
to the social dynamic of the plantation. The failure by the CFP to
completely acquire the language of the dominant group resulted in
first language interference:
Substratum interference is a subtype of interference that results from
imperfect group learning during a process of language shift. That is, in
this kind of interference a group of speakers shifting to a target
language fails to learn the target language (TL) perfectly. The errors
made by members of the shifting group in speaking the TL then spread
to the TL as a whole when [the errors] are imitated by original speakers
of that language (1988:38-39).
T&K point out that the main factor is availability of the TL. The
situation described by T&K is similar to F&D's model of mutual
accommodation. According to Thomason and Kaufman, CFP speakers
shift towards a linguistic model to which they do not have access (or
at best, limited access). T&K do not believe that the assumption of
directionality is justified as a general proposition in the case of pidgin
genesis. They do agree that the goal of speakers who are creating a
pidgin is language learning, but not that their shared goal is necessarily
the learning of a particular language.
2. Creativist model of creole genesis
The question of what should be taken as the TL becomes very
important. DeGraff (1999a) notes that the socially dominant languages
Although pre-adolescent children already had a native language, they would
have certainly acquired the emerging system as native, from the little we know
about child language acquisition.
DEFINING THE TARGET LANGUAGE IN LANGUAGE GENESIS
(i.e. the European varieties) were very elusive in the sense that exposure
to them was limited in varying degrees depending on one's level of
contact with these varieties and one's distance from the European-
controlled centers of power. "Such differential exposure would in turn
entail a continuum of contact languages manifesting varying degrees
of influence from the superstrate language owing to their social
preeminence, French dialect as spoken by the colonists-or, rather
successive nonnative approximations of these dialects were the most
likely sources for the building blocks of new media for interethnic
communication" (1999a:4). In Haiti for example, Baker (1990) and
DeGraff note that the French/African demographic ratio declined
rapidly during the early stages of colonization and the plantation was
highly segregated. The variety of French spoken by the Europeans on
the island became an increasingly removed target. At what point is
French no longer considered the target?
Baker (1994) notes that most theories of creole genesis fall under
one of the following three categories: superstratist, universalist, and
substratist. The superstratists claim that the CFP identified the dominant
language as their target language and failed to master it. Almost all
aspects of the developing language can be attributed to features of the
dominant language. The heaviest support for this theory comes from
the overwhelming number of lexical items. Like the superstratists, the
universalists hold that the TL of the CFP was the language of the
dominant group. Faced with restricted input / limited access, the TL
was not fully acquired. The descendants of this generation however,
repaired the deficiencies of the resulting pidgin using their innate
human language faculty. The substratist theory holds that the CFP
maintained as much of its linguistic heritage as possible. The
circumstances of slavery, however, forced this population of speakers
to acquire much of the dominant language, primarily the lexicon. The
substratists claim that much of the grammar and other features (e.g.
phonology, semantic coding, etc.) are derivable from one or more of
the languages of transplanted Africans.
Baker (1990) offers a very different approach in which he casts doubt
on the validity of the notion of target language (TL) in pidgin and creole
genesis. All three theories of creole genesis assume that transplanted
non-Europeans and their descendants had the linguistic aim of
acquiring or maintaining some pre-existing language and that their
efforts met with little success. He argues that any positions which claim
a given language as the TL of a particular group of people during a
certain period suggests that (1) there was a choice in the matter
RICHARD J. FILE-MURIEL
(speakers opted for one language over another), (2) the group strived
to acquire fluency in the language, and (3) they failed to reach their
target (i.e. imperfect learning). Baker suggests a different approach in
which he questions the assumption that the European language was
the target language in pidgin and creole genesis. He suggests that the
CFP, coming from a wide variety of ethnolinguistic backgrounds, created
a medium for interethnic communication (MFIC). Basically, pidgins and
creoles are solutions to problems of human intercommunication, not
imperfect language learning or failed language maintenance:
The real if unconscious aim of people brought from a wide variety of
ethnolinguistic backgrounds who were obliged to live and work
together slaves, slave-owners, and others belonging to neither of
these categories may instead have been to create a medium for
interethnic communication (MFIC). In other words, pidgins and creoles
are successful solutions to problems of human intercommunication
rather than the unhappy consequences of botched language learning
or failed language maintenance (1994:65-6)
Baker illustrates several clear cases in which the notion of TL fails.
Chinese Pidgin English (CPE) originated in Canton around 1715 due to
the interaction between the Cantonese and English speaking traders.
The vast majority of the lexicon was drawn from English, largely
because Chinese citizens were prohibited from teaching their language
to foreigners. As a result, the Chinese had no choice but to employ
English words when conducting business with the Anglophones. Thus,
it cannot be said that there was a choice in which the Cantonese opted
to learn English. Furthermore, during this time period there was a well
documented hostility of the Chinese towards the Anglophones, casting
doubt on whether the Chinese would have seriously aimed to acquire
native fluency in English. "If English as such was not their TL, then
they clearly cannot be said to have failed to reach it"(1990: 104).
Baker's second example comes from Mauritian Creole (MC). Although
the overwhelming number of lexemes are attributable to some variety
of French, he points out that recent data collections may be rather
deceiving. One hundred and fifty (150) years ago, there may have been
far more words of African or Malagasy origin in MC. The historical
evidence that has often been used to counter this possibility, comes
from a handful of texts recorded by whites, whose presence alone could
explain the lack of non-French words. Furthermore, Baker argues that
too much emphasis has been placed on the large number of French
DEFINING THE TARGET LANGUAGE IN LANGUAGE GENESIS 65
lexemes in MC in order to support the superstrate hypothesis. In order
to communicate within this heterogeneous language community,
immigrants had to find words which other members of the community
would understand. French was the only language to which the entire
community had some varying degree of limited exposure. Logically,
French words were more likely to be understood in encounters between
people who did not share a common ancestral language. In other words,
the majority of the words used within this community were likely to
have been French regardless of the linguistic aims of the community.
"It is not the proportion of MC words which are of French origin which
is significant so much as the ways in which those words differ from
French in pronunciation, form and function" (1994:69).
Baker claims that phonological, morphological and sociohistorical
evidence tends to support his conception of creole genesis (i.e. the
'creativist' model). Evidence of substrate influence noted is mainly the
phonemic inventory, which appears to represent a selection of common
sounds to the majority of languages represented in Mauritius in the
18th century. This strategy would have minimized the number of novel
phonemes to be acquired by the linguistically diverse population. But
there is no evidence to suggest that non-Francophone immigrants
relexified their original languages with French words. Baker notes that
while the MC article system has French etyma, the system as a whole
is clearly not derivable from any French variety, nor does it closely
resemble any language introduced by the CFP. In other words, the article
system was clearly created in Mauritius and supports the creativist
model. A subset of MC's TMA system can be attributed to East African
Bantu languages, partially supporting the substratist position. But the
TMA system allows the possibility of combining two or more preverbal
markers in a single predicate, which provides some support for the
universalist position. The MC verbal system, which emerged during
the first half of the 19th century, has two forms, neither of which
encodes any temporal or aspectual information. When the verb governs
an overt element, the short form is used. The long form is found in all
other contexts (e.g. mo sante 'I sing sing/sang/(am/was) singing' vs.
mo sant en sante 'I sing a song'). Texts indicate that this was clearly an
innovation by the CFP.
After reviewing a range of features from MC, Baker concludes that
the creativist model was far more consistent than any of the other
three positions. The three features attributed to Bantu and Malagasy
origin were all valuable vocabulary building devices. That is to say,
non-French strategies were employed precisely where they expanded
RICHARD J. FILE-MURIEL
the potential of MC. In short, the differences in pronunciation, form
and function do not provide any support for the notion that French
had ever been the target language for most of the non-Francophone
immigrants. MC did not result from unsuccessful attempts by
immigrants to acquire French, nor retain their own language; rather,
the language was created unconsciously for the purpose of interethnic
communication. The CFP created this language by drawing on the
resources available to them. Baker concludes that if this is the case for
MC, it is probably valid for other creoles. Now, I will look at Palenquero,
a language of the Palenque de San Basilio (Colombia).
3. El Palenquero
Palenquero is spoken in Palenque de San Basilio and is entirely
unintelligible to Spanish speakers (Schwegler 1996). It is located about
fifty miles southeast of Cartagena and has been geographically isolated
from the time it was established, for which the actual date remains
unknown. One cannot talk about Palenque de San Basilio (PSB) without
concomitantly referring to the situation in Cartagena, which was a
thriving slave center of Colombia. It is crucial for several reasons. First,
almost all of the Africans that would have been involved in the
establishment of PSB, would have most likely passed through Cartagena
at some point before escaping towards the interior of the Atlantic coast.
The multiethnic and linguistic situation in Cartagena was extremely
complex. Schwegler (1996) suggests that numerous Bantu languages
and extra-Bantu languages coexisted with various dialects of Spanish
and with at least one (possibly several) Portuguese and Spanish-based
pidgins and creoles. Second, conclusions can be drawn about the origin
of the transplanted Africans and their linguistic background based on
what we know about the situation in Cartagena prior to the
establishment of PSB.
In 1598, the Governor announced that there were about two-thousand
slaves in Cartagena, mostly from Guinea, Angola, and Cape Verde. This
is important because we know that there was an established
Portuguese-based pidgin in these areas. Additionally, the presence of
a thriving Portuguese slave trading company in Cartagena, favors the
strong possibility that there was a Portuguese-based Pidgin/Jargon
established in Cartagena in order to conduct trade with the Africans.
Furthermore, the strong possibility exists that (some) Africans arrived
in Cartagena with varying knowledge of a Portuguese-based pidgin.
This is evidenced by reports as early as 1627 of an existing creole or
DEFINING THE TARGET LANGUAGE IN LANGUAGE GENESIS 67
pidgin known as Sao Thome,3 a 'corrupt' Portuguese that was used to
communicate with 'barbarous nations.' Apparently, the existence of
this pidgin facilitated communication between the Spaniards and
Africans, who then were able to communicate with some simplified
register of Spanish. Schwegler has argued rather convincingly that this
Portuguese pidgin underlay Palenquero:
Hoy, un numero creciente de especialistas concuerda en que el habla
palenquera no es, como solia pensarse, el resultado de una evoluci6n
esencialmente local, sino el product de contacts linguisticos con
raices en un pidgin afroportugues, traido a Cartagena y otras Areas
del Caribe afrohispano por esclavos africanos arrojados de las vastas
zonas del litoral occidental africano, donde los portugueses
mantuvieron, como bien se sabe, un prolongado monopolio sobre el
flujo de esclavos hacia America (1997:230).
Schwegler points out that it is not possible to determine the exact
ethnic composition of the Africans representing the first inhabitants
of Palenque. However, we do have an idea of the composition of the
Africans that arrived in Cartagena before and around the period that
PSB was established. The ethnic groups and geographic origin of the
slaves was extremely diverse and varied across the different time
periods. In 1620, Del Castillo (1982) estimates that the number of slaves
had reached nearly 20,000 Africans (although this number reduced
rapidly) and (in Friedemann 1993:51) provides us with a good indication
of their origin by time period:
1533-1580 Wolofs (extra Bantu)
1580-1640 Congo-Angolan (Bantu)
1640-1703 Arara and Mina
1703-1740 Arara and Carabali
1740-1811 Carabali, Angola, Congo, and Mozambique
Palenquero de San Basilio (PSB) was formed at some point in the
17th century, when Cartagena was overwhelmingly multilingual, with
both Bantu and extra-Bantu speakers. Schwegler (1997) and Friedemann
(1993) do not deny the possibility that el Palenque de San Basilio (PSB)
was initially formed by 'cimarrones' (runaway slaves) coming from
:' Sao Thome likely refers to the pidgin Portuguese used between Europeans and
African slave traders.
68 RICHARD J. FILE-MURIEL
other littoral Maroon colonies. But the evidence suggests that those
responsible for establishing the PSB came from Cartagena, and were
said to be Congo-Angolans and other Bantus. Almost all the scholars
(Schwegler, Friedemann, Bickerton, Patifo Rosselli) who have studied
PSB in detail, insist that the colony was characterized by a strong ethnic
and linguistic homogeneity tending towards Bantu. They mention the
possibility that the 'cimarrones' may have tended to congregate with
others from related groups and ethnicity. The evidence presented by
Schwegler suggests that certain ethnic groups from the Old Congo
gathered to form rather exclusive groups in which speakers of Bantu
languages such as Kikongo and Kimbundo became numerically and
socially dominant. Schwegler asserts: "deben de haber sido
precisamente tales negros congo-angolefios y otros banties quienes
participaron en forma active en la preservaci6n y transmisi6n de
palabras africanas, en la formaci6n y el mantenimiento de la lengua
Friedemann (1993:51) suggests that there was a relatively quick and
early process of ethnic integration towards the numerically dominant
group. If this is true, extra-Bantu languages were probably lost as early
as the first generation and had little to no impact on the outcome of
Palenquero. Del Castillo (1982) supposes that anywhere from 1/3-1/2
arrived to the maroon colony speaking a common language, or at least
understood each other using similar Bantu languages. Nonetheless,
the Palenqueros do not speak any African ancestral language today.
Whether or not African languages were used during the colonial period
remains a point of debate and will probably never be established with
any degree of certainty. It is clear, however, that Palenquero
incorporated dozens of words of definite Bantu origin (especially
Kikongo), while exhibiting no contributions from extra-Bantu languages.
There is strong evidence suggesting that by 1772, the Palenque
population was already using a particular language to address one
another (in all probability, this particular language refers to the 1772
version of the creole used today): "Hablan entire si un particular idioma
en que a sus solas instruyen a los muchachos, sin embargo de que
cortan con much expedici6n el castellano, de que generalmente usan"
(Noticia historical in Schwegler 1996). It's interesting that even outsiders
(i.e. the Spanish) recognized the particular linguistic system used by
the Palenqueros as its own entity rather than a 'broken' or 'corrupt'
Spanish. Ferguson and DeBose (1977) claim that for a register to be
considered a language it must be sufficiently different from the source
DEFINING THE TARGET LANGUAGE IN LANGUAGE GENESIS 69
languages. It must be mutually unintelligible without special exposure
and acquisition, and it must be felt by its users to be a separate entity.
It must be sufficiently homogeneous and stable to be described by a
single grammar with variation rather than a combination of grammars.
It must be sufficiently elaborated to be used in a wide range of
communicative domains. As early as 1772, then, a portion of the
community was bilingual in Palenquero and Spanish. This would have
been at least five generations after the establishment of PSB.
At the outset of this paper, I was hoping to answer several questions
about Palenquero. Was there a target language for the Palenquero
community? If so, what was it aiming to acquire and why? Is imperfect
learning of some pre-existing language (i.e. Spanish, Portuguese-based
pidgin, etc.) an adequate description for the formation of Palenquero?
As Baker (1990) argued for in his analysis of Mauritian Creole, to claim
that a Spanish or Portuguese-based pidgin was the TL of the
Palenqueros suggests that there was a choice in the matter. In other
words, the PSB community aimed to acquire Spanish instead of Kikongo.
Furthermore, it suggests that the group strived to acquire native-like
fluency in the language. In the following discussion I will address each
of these suggestions in turn.
Was there a choice in which the Palenqueros opted to acquire a pre-
existing language over another (i.e. Spanish, Portuguese, Portuguese-
based pidgin, etc.)? Although many of the cimarrones probably arrived
to the colony speaking a common language (mutually intelligible Bantu
languages), there must have been some degree of heterogeneity in PSB
(at least half were extra-Bantu speakers). Furthermore, some (if not the
majority) had some contact with a Portuguese-based pidgin4 and maybe
a Spanish-based pidgin. If the Palenqueros needed to communicate with
someone who did not share their ancestral language, Spanish would
have served as a logical lexical fountain given that all groups had at
least some degree of access to it. This clearly does not imply that Spanish
was a TL for the Palenqueros. It simply means that for communication,
there was clearly no other logical choice for lexical selection.
SSlaves were often held captivity in Africa waiting for the proper season and
winds for the ships to sail to South America. During this time, it's possible that
many could have been exposed to pidgin Portuguese to a certain degree.
RICHARD J. FILE-MURIEL
Did the Palenqueros strive to acquire native fluency in a pre-existing
language? It is of great relevance to our discussion that the Palenqueros
of PSB were geographically isolated from their oppressors at the early
stages of the colony's formation. Certainly, contact with their former
Castilian-speaking captors was going to be limited. Until the abolition
of slavery (1814) and probably beyond, there was certainly little
incentive for the majority of Palenqueros to strive for native like fluency
in Spanish (nor in Portuguese). It would be ludicrous to claim that
Palenqueros aimed to acquire Spanish. Their incentive was clearly to
communicate with members of their own group, and maybe with
outsiders for the purpose of conducting trade.
At the initial stages, the tendency was surely to use the ancestral
language with those who spoke common ancestral languages. But as
time passed, the MFIC register would have been seen as the practical,
essential and consequently the prestigious language by children,
allowing them to communicate with the other children. This would
partially explain why the African languages that were not numerically
dominant faced an early death (probably within the 1st or 2nd
generation). Even the dominant African languages in PSB were probably
displaced relatively early.
Although there were some Palenqueros that had a supposed
command of Spanish, the incentive for learning Spanish probably did
not present itself to the majority of Palenqueros until well after the
abolition of slavery (1814), when they began working and trading
outside of their community. As interactions with outsiders increased
and as more work opportunities outside the community became
available, Spanish probably began to represent social mobility. As
Schwegler (1997) suggests, Palenquero is a case of language shift that
is resulting in death, not decreolization.
Schwegler has demonstrated that there are clear Portuguese features
in Palenquero. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that a substantial
number of Palenqueros had some varying knowledge of Portuguese-
pidgin. But in 1772, the report was that Palenqueros spoke a particular
language (which we can assume refers to Palenquero) and Castilian. It
is unclear, then, why for some relexification led to the acquisition of
Castilian, while for others it resulted in the formation of Palenquero.
The evidence suggests that there were two coexisting languages. Finally,
I doubt the idea that Palenquero was Portuguese-based and underwent
The goal of this paper has been to illustrate that the sociohistorical
evidence strongly suggests that Palenquero was a creation for
DEFINING THE TARGET LANGUAGE IN LANGUAGE GENESIS 71
interethnic communication rather than an imperfectly learned Spanish
or expanded Portuguese pidgin. Surely, these systems were used as
lexical fountains, but it's doubtful that they ever served as a TL in the
formation of Palenquero. Furthermore, the TL in language genesis
should be conceived of as community generated, rather than a pre-
existing, abstract language that only exists outside of the community
of speakers. Thus, how we define speech community becomes rather
important (or rather, how the speech community defines itself; i.e.
ethnic identity, class, etc.). The little we know about the social history
of PSB, reveals a situation of language creation rather than imperfect
learning of some pre-existing TL. Was there a choice in the matter? In
other words, did the Palenqueros opt to learn Spanish over Kikongo?
Did the Palenqueros strive to acquire fluency in Spanish? Quite clearly,
the answer to these question is 'No.' If Spanish was not the TL of the
PSB population, they surely cannot be said to have failed to acquire it.
These cimarrones came from a variety of ethnolinguistic backgrounds
(although predominately Bantu) who lived and worked together.
Palenquero is not relexified or imperfectly learned Spanish or
Portuguese. The Palenqueros successfully created a language, a
medium for interethnic communication (MFIC) with the resources
available to them.
RICHARD J. FILE-MURIEL
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Fick, Carolyn. 1990. The making of Haiti. Knoxville: University of Tennessee
Friedemann, Nina S. de. 1993. La saga del negro. Bogota: Universidad
Javeriana, Instituto de Genetica Humana.
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Romance Linguistics and Philology ed. by R. Posner & J.N. Green. 5.407-
432. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
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Zimmermann. 205-230. Madrid: Iberoamericana.
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acquisition. Rowley: Newbury House.
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Palenque de San Basilio (Colombia). Madrid: Iberoamericana.
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los studios linguisticos sobre variedades hispanas, portuguesas y
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discourse: studies celebrating Charlene J. Sato, ed. by John. R Rickford
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Speak of the Advent of New Light:
Jamaican Proverbs and Anancy Stories
In a poem entitled "Mother, the Great Stones Got to Move" Lorna
Goodison speaks of a story that contains
headcounts, burial artifacts, documents, lists, maps
showing our way up through the stars; lockets of brass
containing all textures of hair clippings.'
"[S]ome of us," she adds, "must tell it." This story is known in Jamaica
as 'the half that has never been told,' the half concealed by colonial
history. The dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson calls it "a hurting black
story," and suggests that the very sound and shape of Jamaican music
do in fact begin to tell it he calls it bass history:
Shock-black bubble-doun-beat bouncing
rock-wise tumble-doun sound of music;
foot-drop find drum, blood story,
bass history is a moving
is a hurting black story.2
So, the Jamaican people may not always have had books to tell their
history, but they have always had an oral tradition, a tradition which
Lorna Goodison, "Mother the Great Stones Got to Move," bTo Us All Flowers Are
Roses (Urbana: University of Illinois) 4-5.
2 Linton Kwesi Johnson, "Reggae Sounds," Dread Beat And Blood (Neustadt:
Schwinn, 1984) 100.
76 HUGH HODGES
Johnson observes has the "flame-rhythm of historical yearning/ flame
rhythm of the time of turning."3 It is a tradition in which the act of
telling is both revelation and revolution, a fact that points to a
secondary meaning of the expression "the half has never been told." It
can be used to mean that somebody has got away with something illicit.
Jamaican politics or, as the Rastafari call it, 'politricks' is full of these
untold stories, and the Rastafarian songwriter Buju Banton puts it
With all the 'ike in the price
Arm and leg we have to pay
While owa leaders play
Could go on and on the full has never been told.
The implication is that, if the full ever were told, the tricksters the
leaders, the downpressors, and all the other agents of Babylon would
be exposed, and the trick turned against them. Linton Johnson's
"Reggae Sounds" suggests that music, by telling that untold half, does
turn the trick; it begins "the time of turning." But it's not just music
that does this. Folk proverbs and stories, by speaking from within the
lives and history of the people, also contribute to the telling of the half
that has never been told. Take, for example the Jamaican turn of phrase
"dutty tough." It most often appears in the context of the proverb
"rain a fall, but dutty tough." Rain falls but the earth stays hard. The
proverb usually implies that relief, when it comes, is always too late,
and too little. Bob Marley uses it with this sense in "Them Belly Full":
Them belly full, but we hungry;
A hungry mob is a angry mob.
A rain a fall, but the dutty tough;
A pot a cook, but de food no enough `
Here the proverb speaks about the apparent inevitability of deprivation,
but it also contains, like a locket, an untold story about the relationship
: Johnson, "Reggae Sounds" 100.
Mark Myrie (Buju Banton), Donovan Germain, Handel Tucker and Glen Brown.
"Untold Stories." 'Til Shiloh. By Buju Banton. Poylgram, 314-524 119-2, 1995. The
transcription is from the liner notes to the album.
Bob Marley, "Them Belly Full," Natty Dread, Island Records, CIDM 9281, 1974.
SPEAK OF THE ADVENT OF NEW LIGHT: JAMAICAN PROVERBS AND ANANCY STORIES 77
Jamaicans have with the land; about how they view hardship, and about
the need to endure. And, especially in the way Marley uses it here, it
speaks about a kind of pride in suffering, about refusing "trickledown"
as Goodison calls it. It speaks about Jamaica's people.
Folk stories do the same sort of thing. The cultural historian Richard
E. Burton calls them "a transcription of everyday life on the plantation,"
but just as importantly they are also about the telling of the untold
half. When at the end of an Anancy story a trick is played, the part of
the story that's been concealed suddenly becomes vitally important.
And the revealing of that part of the story doesn't simply set the record
straight; it rewrites the record entirely, realizing possibilities that were
never imagined. In other words, what the telling of Anancy stories
does, is imaginatively invoke "the time of turning." It is this "time of
turning" that I'm going to explore in this paper, first in the context of
Jamaican proverbs, and then in the context of folk stories. Jamaican
proverbs serve a number of rhetorical functions. They can be used to
chastise or to correct, to insult, to give advice, to drive home a well-
known fact, or simply to reflect on the way of things. As a result, it's
difficult and probably unwise to generalize about their content.
Nevertheless, I think one can say that Jamaican proverbs do, in general,
reflect the people's struggle with oppression. In the 1920s the American
ethnographer Martha Beckwith wrote in the introduction to her
collection of Jamaican proverbs:
It is to be noted how many of the proverbs apply to poverty, hunger,
injury, and want..... It is the fate of the folk who are put upon by their
betters and who smart under injury which is expressed with an almost
uncanny justness of observation; as if, by generalizing the experience
of misery and poverty, each man became dignified in his own eyes."
If proverbs were only about generalizing the experience of misery,
however, one would expect them to be a lot more miserable than they
generally are. As Carolyn Cooper observes, what Beckwith's discussion
of proverbs overlooks is the way proverbs talk about poverty, hunger,
and injury.7 Jamaican proverbs are very often humorous, and the comic
turn they have is half of their significance. That is, if half of what
6 Martha Beckwith, Jamaican Proverbs (Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1925) 6.
7 Carolyn Cooper, "Proverbs As Metaphor in the Poetry of Louise Bennett."
Jamaica Journal 17:2 (1984) 23.
78 HUGH HODGES
proverbs do is appeal to familiar, collective wisdom, the other half of
what they do is protean they introduce something new and
So, if we can't usefully generalize about what proverbs say, we can,
perhaps, say something about the way they say what they say, or the
way they do what they do. Proverbs in Jamaica function in broadly
the same way as they do in West Africa. Yoruba proverbs, for example,
serve two functions. First, they have a didactic function: they are held
to express the synthesized, collective wisdom of the people, so using
one is in effect an invocation of authority.' Second, and perhaps more
important, they give oratory aesthetic power. In fact, Yoruba proverbs
get their authority mostly from the aesthetic pleasure they give. The
same thing can be seen in Akan oratory, in which the principle function
of proverbs is aesthetic or poetic rather than didactic.9 In both cases
what gives a proverb its aesthetic power is its uniqueness and the
concreteness of its images.
Admittedly, some of this doesn't apply straightforwardly to Jamaican
proverbs. Certainly proverbs have not, historically, had the same status
in Jamaica that they had in pre-colonial Africa they have been part
of a folk culture that Jamaicans used to be taught to execrate, and
from which many Jamaicans still try to distance themselves.
Consequently, the kind of imaginative, concrete proverbs that would
lend a speech power and authority in Africa are just as likely to have
the opposite effect in Jamaica. So using one in oratory or poetry is a
bit of a calculated risk. It is a risk that Louise Bennett for one has been
taking for more than fifty years. She has been writing and performing
poetry in patwa, championing the language of the people since the
1940s. On the radio and on the stage Louise Bennett performed patwa,
in the process restoring the authority of the proverbial voice by showing
that it was capable of talking about contemporary Jamaica.
Here's an early example. The poem "America," about the massive
emigration to the United States that Jamaica experienced in the 1940s,
begins with the ironic observation:
Every seckey got him jeggeh
Every puppy got him flea.
Oyekan Owomoyela, A Ki i: Yoruba Proscriptive and Prescriptive Proverbs
(Lanham: University Press of America, 1988) 4.
9 Lawrence Boadi, "The Language of the Proverb in Akan," African Folklore, ed. R.
Dorson (Bloomington: Indiana University, 1972) 83.
SPEAK OF THE ADVENT OF NEW LIGHT: JAMAICAN PROVERBS AND ANANCY STORIES 79
An yuh noh smaddy ef you noh
Got family ovah sea!'"
"Every beggar has his bundle of kindling/ Every puppy has its fleas/
And you're not somebody if you don't/ Have family overseas."
Introducing the poem with two traditional proverbs, one of them in
deep patwa, is an assertion that Jamaican culture contains within it
the wisdom to deal with a changing world. The proverb becomes a
metonym for the entire culture, a homeland that the emigrant does
not leave behind when she leaves Jamaica. The fact that proverbs still
apply to her keeps the emigrant within the familiar circle.
Bennett's use of patwa encouraged those who grew up listening to
her to explore patwa in their own poetry. Moreover, by using and
renovating traditional proverbs, she made it possible for poets to begin
framing new ones, to take the voice she had rediscovered, and amplify
it. Take, for example, Lorna Goodison's three-part poem "From the
Garden of Women Once Fallen." The second part of the triptych, called
"Of Bitterness Herbs," reads:
You knotted the spite blooms into a bouquet-garni
To flavour stock for soups and confusion stews.
Now no one will dine with you.
Each succeeding verse begins with a newly-made proverb.
A diet of bitterness is self consuming. Such herbs
are best destroyed, rooted out of the garden
of the necessary even preordained past.
Bitter herbs grow luxuriant where the grudgeful crow
dropped its shadow, starting a compost heap of need in you
to spray malicious toxins over all flowers in our rose gardens.
Bitterness herbs bake bad-minded bread, are good for little
except pickling green-eyed gall stones, then eaten alone
from wooden spoons of must-suck-salt."
The proverbs here serve a complex rhetorical function. The first verse
casts the subject, at least metaphorically, as an Obeah woman a
11 Louise Bennett, "Proverbs" Jamaica Labrish. (Kingston: Sangster's, 1966) 179.
Goodison, "From the Garden of Women Once Fallen," Roses 40-1.
practitioner of black magic dealing in herbal poisons that sow discord
and confusion. Each succeeding verse begins with a formulation that
is part freshly-made proverb and part counter-magic to this science of
bitterness herbs. The proverbs help create a community defined by
shared wisdom. The poem then calls on that community to witness
and chastise, a call it makes in terms that suggestively allude to the
old Myal practice of rooting out Obeah, in order to prepare for the
return to Eden: "Such herbs are best destroyed, rooted out of the
garden." In this way the proverbs help create a kind of rhetorical magic.
Each proverb elicits surprised assent as acknowledgment of its novelty
is followed by recognition of its validity. Importantly, that recognition
is here bound up with recognition of shared cultural knowledge
(specifically knowledge about herbal medicine and Obeah), making
"the necessary and preordained past" not a source of bitterness, but a
source of shared experience so that nobody has to eat alone or "bake
Goodison's poetry frequently uses this combination of proverbial
formulation and folk knowledge. Take, for example, "Name Change:
Morant Bay Uprising," a poem about the 1865 rebellion led by Baptist
Deacon Paul Bogle. The immediate cause of the uprising was the
government's refusal to allow Jamaican peasants access to farmland,
forcing them to either accept wage-slavery on the plantations, or try
to scratch out a living on the slopes of Jamaica's mountains. The poem
uses proverbs as a frame, beginning with the observation,
After the trouble
some with the name Bogle
catch fraid like sickness
and take panic for the cure,
Sometimes after man see hanging
as example, preach like Paul,
your words will fall on stony ground.12
In this instance Goodison is drawing on two apparently different
traditions of proverbial wisdom, the oral folk tradition and the biblical
12 Goodison, "Name Change: Morant Bay Uprising," Roses 37.
SPEAK OF THE ADVENT OF NEW LIGHT: JAMAICAN PROVERBS AND ANANCY STORIES 81
tradition, but there is, as far as I can tell, no sense that two different
kinds of language are being spoken. The closing line's allusion to
Matthew 13:5 "some seeds fell upon stony places" feels as if it
comes from the same metaphysical place as the allusion to herbal
medicine in the opening. Partly this is because the biblical text
Goodison has chosen uses the same kind of concrete language as folk
proverbs. But more important, perhaps, it is because they really do
come from the same place; both folk proverbs and the Bible are part of
the Jamaican's share of inherited knowledge.
This meeting of folk knowledge and biblical knowledge in Goodison's
poetry creates some of its most characteristic effects. In "Speak of the
Advent of New Light" the poem that gives this paper its title -
Goodison imagines light sparking "from the heal of a homeless woman's
shoe" and glowing
in the cupped palms of a night fisherman
as he bends to test the waters off the bay
near surrender, the wonder of the living water
bearing footprints and currents of fresh beginnings.
And small children will come in from play
pulling like kites behind them luminous
streamers of light, infused with such colours
as never the prism of the eye has reflected.
New light succeeding dark is certain, is expected.13
The last line here proverbially combines folk wisdom and religious
conviction. It is a reformulation of the folkish observation that 'it's
always darkest before the dawn,' but it is also an assertion that the
revelation anticipated in Christ's miracles in "the living water/
bearing footprints" will come to pass, and that the oppressed, the
homeless and the poor, will see it first. In this respect, the poem
works in the same way as an Anancy story: it describes the setting
up of a trick that is paradoxically both anticipated and impossible
to foresee because never before seen, and then it describes the trick
itself, a turning inside-out of expectations. In this case the trick makes
darkness into light, and the discarded and downtrodden into the
children of God. In fact, the Anancy trick has become the Christian
13 Goodison "Speak of the Advent of New Light," Roses 45.
82 HUGH HODGES
This is, I think, an extremely significant transformation. After all,
Anancy the spider man is a key figure in Jamaican folk culture. He is
Jamaica's trickster figure, the central character in the bulk of Jamaican
folk stories. Indeed, Jamaican folk stories are generically referred to
as Nancy stories. Few figures real or imaginary have such a central
place in Jamaica's imagination, and certainly none has played a more
complex role. Leonard Barrett writes, "So intricately woven is Anansi
in Jamaican life that his cunning has become part of the Jamaican
personality stereotype."14 His origins are African. He is a relative of the
West African trickster spider Anansi or Anaanu, but one should be
careful not to overestimate the closeness of the relationship. The
traditional African trickster is a deity inhabiting a timeless world; his
Jamaican cousin is a poor black man in a hard, history-bound one.
Moreover, there's a kind of morality at work in Jamaican Anancy stories
that simply isn't part of the African stories. It is a specifically Christian
morality. Louise Bennett recalls telling Nancy stories as a child,
At the end of each story, we had to say, "Jack Mandora, me no chose
none," because Annancy sometimes did very wicked things in his
stories, and we had to let Jack Mandora, the doorman at heaven's
door, know that we were not in favor of Annancy's wicked ways. "Me
no chose none" means "I don't choose to behave in any of these ways.'5
Storytellers, no matter how much they may admire or appreciate the
story's trick, feel obliged to distance themselves from the greed, spite
and deceitfulness that characteristically precipitate Anancy's tricks.
In Jamaica, the world Anancy inhabits is not as distinct from the
mundane world as the African trickster's; the fact that there is a division
at all must always be reiterated. And, in fact, the suspension of the real
world's morality that saying "Me no chose none" is meant to enact is
never entirely convincing. Anancy's trickified antics always threaten
to become a plausible model for human behaviour.
Christianity's interaction with Anancy is more complex than its
disapproval of his antics would suggest, however. There is, in fact, a
deep affinity between Christianity and Anancy, or rather between
Christianity and the Anancy trick. Diane Austin-Broos observes this
affinity in her study of Pentecostalism in contemporary Jamaica:
14 Leonard Barrett, The Sun and the Drum (London: Heinemann, 1976) 32.
15 Bennett, "Me and Annancy" in Walter Jekyll, Jamaican Song and Story (New
York: Dover, 1966) ix.
SPEAK OF THE ADVENT OF NEW LIGHT: JAMAICAN PROVERBS AND ANANCY STORIES 83
Pentecostalism is concerned with the transition that changes a person
into a saint. This ritual address to the person is consistent with a
cosmology that proposes in rite and trickster myth that change comes
through normative breach and not through systematic practice. The
trick as a circumvention of hierarchy is integral to Jamaican life and
familiar to the many Jamaicans who both scold and laud "Anansi"
behaviour. In the realm of Jamaican Christian practice, the power of
the possession rite stands as homologous to the trick. Both are acts
that create a breach in a recalcitrant order. In Pentecostal rite, a
sinner is turned into a saint, and this sinner is often a person cast as
Africa's descendant. From the viewpoint of the orthodox Christian,
this person stood at the base of the system, steeped in superstitious
magic and unable to assume the "moral greatness" that a civilized
"religion demands." This African immoralist born in concubinage
becomes through the rites of healing and possession a Jamaican
If what Austin-Broos describes is indeed an Anancy trick, then it's the
trick transformed perhaps even trans-substantiated by Christian
eschatology. And it is this meeting of the Anancy trick with Christian
eschatology that makes Anancy such a complicated figure in
contemporary Jamaica because, in the Pentecostal rite Austin-Broos
describes, the trick and the trickster have come apart somehow. The
trick is not limited by the trickster's own limitations by greed, spite
and deceitfulness. And this is important because it suggests that there
are two ways of reading Nancy Stories one that valorizes the trickster,
his cunning and amorality, and one that valorizes the trick while trying
to liberate the trick from the trickster.
I think this helps to explain why there is so much debate about the
place of Anancy in Jamaican culture: can Anancy be reclaimed as a
cultural hero, or is the amoral trickster something that Jamaica needs
to leave behind? Does he represent the strength of Jamaican culture,
or its weakness? For many, including the poet Kwame Dawes Anancy
still stands as a symbol of cultural resistance. In his book Natural
Mysticism, Towards a Reggae Aesthetic, Dawes elaborates a connection
between Anancy and "such slave rebels, black rebel leaders and Maroon
warriors as Cudjoe, Nanny, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, and Tacky, all
celebrated as much for their trickster qualities, their capacity to dupe
11 Diane Austin-Broos, Jamaica Genesis, Religion and the Politics of Moral Orders
(Kingston: Ian Randle, 1997) 119-120.
84 HUGH HODGES
the white slaveholder or dominant oppressing class, as for their
capacities as warrior figures."17 He then extends the analogy to include
reggae artists, particularly Bob Marley, whom he sees as underdogs
using rhythmic and linguistic subversion to fight the forces of
oppression. In fact much of the 'reggae aesthetic' Dawes develops in
Natural Mysticism depends on this connection between Jamaican folk
heroes and the trickster Anancy. The connection is a difficult one,
however. In folk stories, Anancy is not by any means always the
underdog Dawes describes. The story Walter Jekyll collects as "William
Tell," for example, recounts unironically how Anancy, by the strength
of his arm and his singing, cuts down a tree that no man could fell.18
His relative strength is again important in the story of "Annancy and
Candlefly." Stronger and faster than Candlefly, Anancy engrosses all of
the food they set out to collect together, and, because Anancy is so
much stronger, Candlefly is forced to leave without saying a word.9 In
some stories, Anancy's 'trick' amounts to little more than coming up
with a flimsy pretext for laying into someone with an axe. And Anancy
is not always the sharpest-witted character in the stories. Toad is
sometimes a match for him, as are Monkey and Fire.2" In a few stories
Anancy is not even the trickster. In the story "Anancy and Common-
Sense" told by Louise Bennett, the story's trick is an accidental result
of Anancy's display of temper.
The fact that Anancy is not always the story's successful trickster
suggests that the trickster and the trick are in some important ways
separate and independent, not just in Pentecostal rite, but also in the
original stories themselves. This makes possible two very different
readings of Anancy stories.
The reading that valorizes the trickster reads Anancy's world as
amoral, in the sense that it's a world in which all moral systems have
failed and been discredited. In this reading Anancy stories are a perfect
allegory of racist society. As Rex Nettleford observes, Anancy has "a
special significance in a society which has its roots in a system of
17 Kwame Dawes, Natural Mysticism (Leeds: Peepal Tree, 1999) 12
1 Jekyll, "William Tell" Song and Story 29
19 Jekyll, "Annancy and Candlefly" Song and Story 87.
21 See, for example, Jekyll, "How Monkey Manage Annancy." Song and Story 20-22;
Jekyll, "Toad and Donkey," Song and Story 42; Louise Bennett, "Anancy and Monkey,"
Anancy Stories and Dialect Verse (Kingston: Pioneer, 1973) 4; and Louise Bennett
"Anancy An' Fire" Anancy 12-13.
SPEAK OF THE ADVENT OF NEW LIGHT: JAMAICAN PROVERBS AND ANANCY STORIES 85
slavery... which pitted the weak against the strong in daily
confrontations... It is as though every slave strove to be Annancy and
he who achieved the Spider-form became a kind of hero."2' This striving
to become the spider man is sometimes called 'anancyism.' It's the
subject of Michael Thelwell's novel The Harder They Come. In that
story, the hero, Ivan Rhygin, finds himself inhabiting what seems to be
a morally bankrupt world the Garveyite consciousness and folk
spirituality represented by his Grandmother and her friend Maas Nattie
appear to be part of an irrelevant past, replaced in modern Jamaica
with the hypocritical Christianity of Preacher Ramsay and realpolitik
of Detective Superintendent Ray Jones. This gives Ivan the liberty to
become, at first only in his imagination, and then in fact Anancy.
The Harder They Come is a kind of Anancy story, and like any Anancy
story it has songs built into it specifically Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder
They Come" and "You Can Get It (If You Really Want It)." And the first
verse of "The Harder They Come" outlines the basic principles of
Well they tell me of a pie up in the sky
Waiting for me when I die
But between the day you born and when you die
They never seem to hear even your cry
So as sure as the sun does shine
I'm gonna get my share now of what's mine.22
The song "The Harder They Come" is more than a statement of
principles, however. Like songs in an Anancy story, it is an integral
part of the trick. It is the incantation that precipitates and accompanies
Ivan's near-magical tricking of Babylon. In fact, as in so many Anancy
stories, it's difficult to distinguish the song from the trick. For example,
in Jekyll's telling of "William Tell," Anancy undertakes to cut down an
enchanted tree, even though it kills any animal that goes under it.
"Ho, me good massa, don't you fret of the tree. If one sing don't send
'way the tree another one must send him 'way.'" An' the first sing
21 Rex Nettleford, "Jamaican Song and Story," Jekyll: xiii.
22 Jimmy Cliff, "The HarderThey Come," Groove Yard, by Various Artists. Island
Records, CID-1281, 1989.
Big chip, fly! little chip, fly!
He repeat the word over an' over, but the tree don't fall yet.
So him take up another sing again: -
Me go to Ricky-lan-jo, eye come shine, come
show me your motion, eye come shine
An' Mr. Annancy never cease till him cut down the tree an' receive his
To what extent it is the axe doing the chopping down here, and to what
extent it's the song is unclear. What is clear is that it's the song that
either directly or indirectly enables Anancy to fell a tree that has
defeated all comers, to say in effect, "The harder they come, the harder
they fall." Similarly, in Thelwell's novel it is not Rhygin's gun battles
with the police that pose the real threat to the big tree, Babylon; it's
the songs. Ivan's exploits as a lone badman make him a popular hero,
but are finally conservative. His expulsion from society and his death
follow his rebellion against the established order with tragic
inevitability, and leave the established order ostensibly unchanged.
His songs, however, survive the tragedy, banned from the government's
radio, but sounding resistance in the yards and dancehalls of Kingston.
And that resistance is articulated very compactly in the chorus, "The
Harder they come, the harder they fall, one and all." The iniquitous
establishment, and the selfish trickster both fall. What survives them
is a voice or rather a chorus of voices that speak in proverbs. At
the end of the day, it is the people that will be left standing, and it's
their story that will be sung.
And this points to a way of reading the trickster story in which the
trick is seen as something larger than the trickster, and altogether more
threatening to the oppressive social order. The middle and upper classes
are no doubt right when they feel that Anancy represents much that is
threatening to Jamaican society, not simply because he authorizes bad
behaviour, but because his tricks especially when they take on a life
of their own represent something powerful and hopeful.
The trickster, then, is not really the correct paradigm for understand-
ing reggae artists. Even when Anancy is the underdog in Jamaican folk
stories, his battles are never motivated by the kind of heroism or great-
ness of spirit that one identifies with Paul Bogle, for example, or for
23 Jekyll, "William Tell" 29. I have omitted the musical notation provided by Jekyll.
SPEAK OF THE ADVENT OF NEW LIGHT: JAMAICAN PROVERBS AND ANANCY STORIES 87
that matter with Bob Marley or Burning Spear. He is motivated mainly
by his stomach. Certainly the result is always a breach in the social
order the established hierarchy is subverted, however temporarily,
by Anancy outmaneuvering his superiors, betraying his friends or tak-
ing advantage of his inferiors but these breaches don't lead any-
where. There is no sense that the inversions achieved by Anancy are
the fulfilment of some divine plan. And if there is one thing Bob Marley,
for example, is sure of, it's that there is a divine plan.
The chorus of Bob Marley's "Small Axe" says, "If you are the big
tree/ We are the small axe/ Sharpened to cut you down."24 These lines
are generally understood to contain a punning challenge to the three
big recording studios that dominated the Jamaican recording industry
when Marley started Tuff Gong records. Marley, the song announces,
is going to pull an Anancy trick, and steal the other studios' business.
But the context of Marley's song makes the chopping down of the
recording moguls a spiritual matter, not just a business coup, but a
blow against Babylon's system. And this is simply inconsistent with
anancyism: Anancy is motivated not by grand considerations of right
and wrong, but by his own iniquitous greed. Kwame Dawes argues that
Marley is "constructing a classic trickster song of resistance and
defiance through the sheer wit of 'brain-work',""25 but he misses the
spiritual context of the song. The song itself asserts that sheer wit and
brain-work are worthless: only divine sanction makes a trick fruitful.
In fact, without it, brain-work isn't even clever:
Why boasteth thyself
O evil men
Playing smart and not being clever
I say you are working iniquity to achieve vanity
If a so a so
But the goodness of Jah Jah I-dureth for I-ver.26
Without the sanction of Jah, the Anancy trick is self-defeating;
"Whosoever diggeth a pit shall fall in it," because, Jah says, "No weak
heart shall prosper." And to make sure that there's no confusion about
24 Bob Marley, "Small Axe," Burnin', by The Wailers, Island Records, CIDM-9256,
25 Dawes 177.
26 Marley, "Small Axe," The Wailers, Burnin' (Island, CDM 9256, 1973).
88 HUGH HODGES
the message here, the song that follows "Small Axe" on the album
Burnin'is "Pass it On":
Be not selfish in your doings
Pass it on
Help your brothers in their needs
Pass it on
Live for yourself, you wi live in vain
Live for others, you wi live again
In the kingdom of Jah Man shall reign
Pass it on27
"Pass it On" is, in the first instance, a call for a conscious rejection of
Anancy. Help your brothers; be not selfish. At the same time, the song
is a call to look forward to the apocalyptic Anancy trick to end all tricks
that will defeat Babylon once and for all, and establish the Kingdom of
Jah. This is the great miracle that every small miracle of personal
upliftment anticipates every Pentecostal possession rite, every Rasta
meditation and it's the miracle anticipated (perhaps even precipi-
tated, hurried along soon come) by every linguistic blow directed
against Babylon by Dreadtalk. There's a particularly significant piece
of Dreadtalk in the line "In the kingdom of Jah Man shall reign." In
Dreadtalk, lyaric, the word 'men', used as both singular and plural,
refers to the hosts of Babylon the politicians, the priests, the CIA -
in short, the doomed races of men who live in vain. Man, on the other
hand is used to refer exclusively to the Rastaman, the I-Man. So, in the
Kingdom of Jah, Man shall reign.
This is the half that has never been told, condensed into one word.
The story that the trickified downpressors hoped would never be told.
And it turns out that the sufferers, those whom the downpressors have
scattered across the Atlantic, whom they have tried to debase and
dehumanize, are Man. As it says in Genesis, "And God said, Let us make
man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion."28
Importantly, "Pass it On," is an injunction to, well, pass it on to
tell the half that has never been told, and to keep telling it until it
brings down the walls of Jericho. And this finally is the Anancy trick
re-imagined without Anancy; it's a song performed not by a lone trick-
ster, but by a people, chanting down Babylon. And that is the trick
27 Jean Watt, "Pass It On," Wailers.
28 Genesis 1:26
SPEAK OF THE ADVENT OF NEW LIGHT: JAMAICAN PROVERBS AND ANANCY STORIES 89
Austin-Broos, Diane. Jamaica Genesis, Religion and the Politics of Moral
Orders. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 1997.
Banton, Buju (See Myrie, Mark)
Barrett, Leonard E. The Sun and the Drum. London: Heinemann, 1976.
Beckwith, Martha. Jamaican Proverbs. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College,
Bennett, Louise. "Anancy An' Fire." Bennett, Anancy 12-13.
"Anancy and Monkey." Bennett, Anancy 4.
Anancy Stories and Dialect Verse (New Series). Kingston: Pioneer
"Me and Annancy." Jekyll ix-xi.
-__- "Proverbs," Jamaica Labrish. Kingston Jamaica: Sangster's Book
Stores Ltd., 1966. 217.
Boadi, Lawrence A. "The Language of the Proverb in Akan." African Folklore.
Richard M. Dorson ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972.
Cliff, Jimmy. "The Harder They Come." Groove Yard. Various Artists. Island
Records, CID-1281, 1989.
Cooper, Carolyn. "Proverbs As Metaphor in the Poetry of Louise Bennett."
Jamaica Journal 17:2 (1984). 21-24.
Dawes, Kwame. Natural Mysticism, Towards a New Reggae Aesthetic. Leeds:
Peepal Tree, 1999.
Goodison, Lorna. "From the Garden of Women Once Fallen." Goodison, Roses
"Mother, the Great Stones Got to Move." Goodison, Roses: 4-5.
"Name Change: Morant Bay Uprising." Goodison Roses 37
"Speak of the Advent of New Light." Goodison, Roses 45.
To Us, All Flowers Are Roses. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
Jekyll, Walter. Jamaican Song and Story. New York: Jekyll, Walter. Jamaican
Song and Story. New York: Dover, 1966.
"Annancy and Brother Tiger." Jekyll 7-10.
"Annancy and Candlefly." Jekyll 86-90.
"How Monkey Manage Annancy." Jekyll 20-22.
"Toad and Donkey." Jekyll 42.
"William Tell." Jekyll 29-30.
90 HUGH HODGES
Johnson, Linton Kwesi. "Reggae Sounds." Dread Beat And Blood. Neustadt,
Myrie, Mark (Buju Banton), Donovan Germain, Handel Tucker and Glen
Brown. "Untold Stories." 'Til Shiloh. By Buju Banton. Poylgram
Records, 314-524 119-2, 1995.
Marley, Bob. "Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)." Marley and The Wailers,
"Small Axe." Wailers, Burnin'.
Marley, Bob and The Wailers. Natty Dread. Island Records, CIDM 9281. 1974.
Nettleford, Rex. "Jamaican Song and Story and the Theatre." Jekyll: xiii-xv.
Owomoyela, Oyekan. A Ki i. Yortb& Proscriptive and Prescriptive Proverbs.
Lanham, MO: University Press of America, 1988.
Wailers, The. Burnin'. Island Records, CDM 9256, 1973.
Watt, Jean. "Pass It On." Wailers, Burnin'.
The Routes of Global Nostalgia
in Cristina Garcia's Dreaming in Cuban
Elena Machado Saez
S hit, I'm only twenty-one years old. How can I be nostalgic for my
youth?": Pilar's question serves as a map for Cristina Garcia's
Dreaming in Cuban and its labyrinth of journeys and migrations
(198). At her birth, Pilar inherits a mission from her grandmother, that
of recording a family history which will serve as an alternative to the
dominant Historical narrative. The family's exile, however, prevents
Pilar from having direct access to Cuba, the origin and subject of this
alternate historical project. Nostalgia consequently serves as the route
Pilar travels in order to recuperate her family memories as well as a
sense of her own identity and space of belonging. Entrance into a jour-
ney of nostalgia leads Pilar to complicate her relationship to Cuba and
her globalized context. Pilar's negotiation of her identity is neverthe-
less overshadowed and overdetermined by this nostalgia and its own
confused origins. Dreaming in Cuban ambivalently positions Pilar's
nostalgia as both a product of her creative imagination and a product
I' define globalization and globalism here as an intensified form of capitalism
that with the development of new technologies has led to an increased and uneven
global flow of products and culture. Obviously an enormous bibliography on
globalization exists, my ideas have been particularly influenced by Empire by
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.
92 ELENA MACHADIO SAEZ
Within Dreaming in Cuban, nostalgia emerges as the desire to recon-
nect with the original objects of memory's gaze, to possess an alterna-
tive history, one that is personal and familial, over the national and
public History. The experience of exile accentuates this desire for a
return to the past. In Questions of Travel, Caren Kaplan notes that,
"When the past is displaced, often to another location, the modern
subject must travel to it, as it were. History becomes something to be
established and managed through...forms of cultural production. Dis-
placement, then, mediates the paradoxical relationship between time
and space in modernity (35). It is this kind of nostalgia that informs
Pilar's mission in Dreaming in Cuban to record what "really happens."
For example, Pilar asserts:
If it were up to me, I'd record other things. Like the time there was a
freak hailstorm in the Congo and the women took it as a sign that
they should rule. Or life stories of prostitutes in Bombay. Why don't
I know anything about them? Who chooses what we should know or
what's important? I know I have to decide these things for myself.
Most of what I've learned that's important I've learned on my own or
from my grandmother. (28)
Pilar realizes history is a subjective narrative process, one she shapes
to include what has not been recognized as official History. She is par-
ticularly interested in recovering the events marking women as active
in the creation of history as well as personal stories about female ex-
perience. This desire to record the marginal is linked to Pilar's rela-
tionship with her grandmother, Celia. What comforts Celia at the be-
ginning of the novel is that, "Pilar records everything" (7). When Pilar
finally arrives in Cuba to meet her grandmother again, Celia greets her
by saying, "I'm glad you remember, Pilar. I always knew you would"
(218). The last letter Celia writes, and which completes the novel, reit-
erates Pilar's inheritance: "The revolution is eleven days old. My grand-
daughter, Pilar Puente del Pino, was born today.. .I will no longer write
to you, mi amor. She will remember everything." (245). But why is Pilar
chosen for this mission? Since Celia's children are either dead (Felicia
and Javier) or deaf to her needs (Lourdes), she tells Pilar that as her
granddaughter, she is Celia's last hope for salvation: "Women who out-
live their daughters are orphans, Abuela tells me. Only their grand-
daughters can save them, guard their knowledge like the first fire" (222).
Pilar certainly excels early at her recording task, claiming that she re-
members everything that's happened to her since she was a baby, even