Roots essays in caribbean literature

Cudjoe's Home. James, one of the most distinguished thinkers of the modern Caribbean, made the following statement about the people of the Anglophone Caribbean: "People of the West Indies, you do not know your own power. No one dares to tell you. You are a strange, a unique combination of the greatest driving force in the world today, the underdeveloped formerly colonial coloured peoples; and more than any of them, by education, way of life and language, you are completely part of Western civilization.

Alone of all people in the world you began your historical existence in a highly developed modern society-the sugar plantation. All those who would say or imply that you are in any way backward and therefore cannot in a few years become a modern advanced people are your enemies, satisfied with the positions that they hold and ready to keep you where you are forever.

It is part of the explanation of why he left the People's National Movement. Some years, David Lichenstein reminded us of the contention of Britannica Online that the Caribbean possessed "no indigenous tradition" in writing. The civilization that was to replace the Indians, made up of several different West African peoples brought to the West Indies as slaves, did not possess a written tradition of it own-nor was it allowed to develop one while it suffered in bondage. But the Africans did in some measure pass on a culture of orality, of storytelling and song-a culture that writers like Kamau Brathwaite point to as evidence of and African heritage in the Caribbean.

This identity was based not on European ideals but on links between black communities in the Caribbean. With the growth of newly independent states like Barbados, Trinidad, and Jamaica, Anglophone writers finally began to develop a tradition that focused on a distinctly Caribbean consciousness. If we follow these two contradictory tendencies that of James and Britannica Online we identify two approaches to the literature: one that asserts the uniqueness of the Caribbean story and another that suggests that nothing indigenous came out of the Caribbean until the s.

More importantly, the latter interpretation makes a great distinction between the oral and written traditions and places little value on the oral tradition. Such a dramatic distinction is not especially meaningful since many aspects of the oral dimensions of the tradition turns up in the written work and possess much more meaning to the masses than they do to the literati.

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More importantly, in the Caribbean, one must define what one means by literature and how it manifests itself in our context. In "Making Love Across the Atlantic: Nineteenth Century Trinidad Narratives in their International Contexts," I have suggested that a tradition of Anglophone writing that began much earlier than the s and one that involves a much more complex imbrications of the oral and the written.

Kamau Brathwaite

Suffice it to say that the tradition is much deeper and much more complex than most critics suggest. Necessarily, any new criticism within the field must revolve around an understanding what constitutes literature especially as we try to understand our position in the global economy. Indeed, if literature mirrors or signifies for the emotional consciousness of a people, then an examination of the literature raises the question: how have we depicted our situatedness in our new world through our literature?

Needless to say, each group did not experience the Caribbean in the same way nor, for that matter, did they respond in exactly the same way. So while one can and may speak of a Caribbean experience or a Caribbean identity, it is necessary to be aware of the nuances of experience of each specific experience and how it played out in the region. Such an understanding of our experiences has implications even for today and how these groups express their Caribbeanness. Any analysis of Caribbean literature should produce a new reading of our condition.

It should tell us how those varied groups negotiated their Caribbeanness, how it prepared them to occupy their contemporary space, and how the Caribbean crucible of experience modified their experiences. Much of this essay would be concerned with identifying moments in this continuing drama of identity in the Caribbean.

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Anglophone Caribbean literature is an offshoot of African oral literature most island inhabitants came from West Africa. Its Amerindian provenance, together with its Asian and European roots also contributed to its ultimate contours. Thus, the earliest literature of Anglophone Caribbean can be traced to the proverbs, riddle, kheesas tales of African and Indian literature respectively. Although there are poems written in the later part of the eighteenth century such as "The Sorrows of Yamba; Or, The Negro Woman's Lamentation" and the work of the Latinist and schoolmaster, Francis Williams, we can begin to locate an identifiable, indigenous tradition as beginning in Jean Baptiste Philippe's Free Mulatto , one of the earliest works in Anglophone Caribbean literature that speaks to specificity of our place in the society and the unjust manner in which we are treated in this new environment.

This narrative revolved around a plea to the colonial government in which a Caribbean man sough to define the place of the mulatto or the colored person within the context of his Trinidadian reality. The contradiction inherent in his lived condition that of a free colored man owning slaves yet pleading for the freedom of his coloured brethren did not seem to take away much from his urgent demand that his people be treated fairly on the basis of their capacity for reason, virtue, and good breeding. Needless to say, this was part of the Enlightenment ideal.

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Although the conditions described in the island of Jamaica were not always identical to those of the other Caribbean island Trinidad, for example, had a milder form of slavery , a reading of these narratives gives one a sense of the hardship Africans endured as they strove to acclimatize themselves to the unfortunate circumstances under which they found themselves. The next major narrative that examined the African condition in a critical manner was Maxwell Philip's Emmanuel Appadocca: A Tale of the Boucaneers , even though Kamau Brathwaite, the Barbadian poet and critic, suggests that the anonymous narrative, Hamel the Obeah Man , offers the first complex portrayal of the African in Anglophone Caribbean Literature.

Emmanuel Appadocca, the first known novel written by a Caribbean person in the Anglophone Caribbean, makes the moral claim against a person his father and two systems slavery and colonialism that make him an orphan.

Importantly enough, the novel examined the implications of the lex talionis in this new Caribbean environment. In an illuminating introduction to a recent edition of Emmanuel Appadocca, William Cain argues that Emmanuel Appadocca should be seen as a companion piece to such manifestly antislavery texts as Uncle Tom's Cabin and Douglass's The Heroic Slave.

The Wondrous Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands , another pivotal work in this tradition of critical self-examination, recounts Seacole's development as she traveled and worked in many lands where she practiced medicine and engage in business.

Caribbean Studies Essay

Comfortable in her womanhood she averred that she did not re-marry because of choice she struck out independently in the colonial and colonizer's world, secure in the conviction that women could navigate life on their own. This conviction and enormous bravery alert us to the independent existence that many of our women were forced to lead in the islands and abroad. This tradition of resistance and courage was demonstrated once more in the works of the poets and dramatists in the second half of the nineteenth century. Vincent at the end of the 19th century.

The challenges currently facing the Caribbean, note the editors, impose a heavy burden upon political leaders who must struggle "to eliminate the tensions when the people are so poor and their expectations so great. Knight, Anthony P. Maingot, Jay R. Palmer, Bonham C. Richardson, Franciso A. Scarano, and Blanca G. About the Authors Franklin W. Knight is Leonard and Helen R. For more information about Franklin W. Knight, visit the Author Page.

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Colin A. For more information about Colin A. Palmer, visit the Author Page. Perceptive and timely as well as highly original and eclectic.