Caribbean Dish on the Post-Colonial Supper Table

Daizal R. Samad, Associate Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco

I should like to beg your leave and begin this paper in a somewhat unusual anecdotal fashion by reading part of a letter that I wrote some years ago to a friend of mine, Dr. Mohamed Tunsi, from Libya. I met Mohamed at a conference hosted by Yarmouk University in Jordan. After the conference and just previous to my departure from Jordan, we visited the ancient ruins of the city of Jerash. This is what I wrote:

"I remember well the sensation that I experienced as we ... stood before the southern gate of that ancient city. I felt acutely the age of the place, the rocks beneath my feet and those rising above my head, raised in honour of fragile human beings who make up for that fragility by erecting structures in honour of themselves. And as we stood (or as I stood) there in awe at the age of the gateway, more in awe that it was described as only 1800 years old, a more recent addition to the ancient city, stood in trembling insignificance with the renewed knowledge that we human beings are so easily outlived and so fearful of our transience that we erect wondrous structures that we be remembered. Such fantastic monuments to our fleeting glory, things structured so intricately so very long ago. Each huge square of rock fitting so neatly into another that the gateway seemed to be in a perpetual, frozen embrace of itself. Its frozen narcissism in defiance of the blazing heat of that Jordanian day. The arrangement of rock on rock and inlay of rock in rock seemed like neatly interlocked fingers of hands clasped in anxiety or in prayer. Magnificent, yet but ruins. Ruins. Even the poppy that I picked, freshly blossomed, seemed old. Its youth not so much youth as youth preserved.

I was reminded in the most painful way imaginable ... that I am from a culture that could hardly conceive of such age, of such time or timelessness. The West Indies, so very young, so very fragile, not even five hundred years old from the moment of its involuntary conception or wilful misconception. But having passed through the crucible of history, the most cruel the world has ever seen, having survived at all is nothing short of a miracle. When we were in the amphitheatre, I remember you telling me that there were such structures, and as old, in Libya. And I envied you your history, though with reservations. For upon contemplation, I thought that since we do not have such structures I am given the chance to feel these before and around me more keenly. I thought also that since we West Indians are without such monuments, we cannot be imprisoned by them and the sense of history they offer like a sickly nostalgia We cannot be victims of their ruined dignity. There is nothing to which we must return or from which we must escape. And I am confident that such edifices will never be built in the West Indies, for we do not have the self-confidence nor the economic muscle. And we shall never have it. Rather, the West Indies must endure the ultimately more difficult task of building its structures in its humanity, in literature and in the arts outside of expensive architecture, in modest carvings shaped like a new heart, like love. It must carve its dignity from the rock of history into the human image, tiny in the eyes of the universe. I look upon the new nations, the new vanities--Canada, for instance, with its admittedly muted boast of having the tallest free-standing building in the world, the CN Tower; or Malaysia, for instance, with its new boast of having the world�s tallest buildings, the Petronas Towers, joined by the world�s tallest sky bridge--with some pity, with no envy whatsoever, but with an understanding of the impulse. These buildings will not outlast Jerash, and they will not even make noble ruins."

This passage, I believe, has a profound bearing on what I am about to say regarding what West Indian literary practice contributes to Post-Colonial thinking. I quote it because it demonstrates two points: first, the unpredictable and paradoxical manner in which the fundamentally but complexly foetal sensibility of the West Indian may be affected when confronted by traditional, historical or mythological artefact. Even a sensibility which has been refashioned somewhat by the climate of North American culture, refashioned in shape while retaining its fundamental properties, much like water is reshaped to ice. Second, I quote it to demonstrate the interlocking relationship between art and history, especially in the case of Post-Colonial Literary and critical enterprise.

This paper will be without context, I am afraid, unless I recall briefly some of the history of the region and the implications of that history. As many of us know, Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean in 1492. He was greeted by what anthropologists agree to be one of the gentlest peoples to have graced this planet: the Arawakan peoples. These were a people who were gatherers: they fished, played games, ate fruit that were in abundance, made music and made love. Their welcome and friendliness were reciprocated in the most brutal of ways by the Columbus expeditions and those that came immediately after. In fact, the Spanish priest, Bartholomew de las Casas recorded one of these events. The Spanish landed on one of the islands, and the natives, laden with gifts of pottery, rushed upon the shores to greet these god-like beings. De las Casas, an eye-witness, records that they were cut down by the Spanish who were more interested in gold than in gifts of clay. He records that pregnant women were cut open from throat to groin, and bloody foetuses held aloft in triumph by the visiting Spanish. Later, when it was discovered that tobacco could be grown here to great profit, the Arawakans were held in slavery and made to work in the plantations. But these were a people unsuited for such labour; and caught between the twin demons of forced labour and European diseases, they were squeezed into near extinction.

Other European nations joined the race to conquer the New World by this time, the English and the French, especially. With the virtual extermination of the Arawakan peoples, rapacious eyes were turned to their more war-like cousins: the Cariban peoples. This alternative source of labour also died from disease and captivity. Many, rather than being taken into captivity, threw themselves in a ritual of suicide by the thousands off cliffs. All in all, the world saw--or maybe it did not see, for these are facts that do not appear in many history books--the virtual extermination of an entire people, an entire culture. I say virtual, because there are a few thousand of these people whose ancestors fled into the jungles of Guyana. Theirs is a history largely ignored in the writing and even more largely ignored in the reading; for, even today, many so-called post-colonial scholars must suffer the indictment of being too imprisoned within national and racial boundaries to bother themselves too much with such trivia. Such is the bliss of the ignorant or myopic. Or else, they render histories the same; colonialism, after all, they say, is colonialism. But nowhere was the pathology of colonialism more deadly. Not before, not since. Today, the West Indies are a witness to statistics of awful proportions: there is no record of an Amerindian person on any of the islands where once they had lived so well and in such numbers.

The point of recalling this holocaust, unequalled still in the twisted history of this planet, is not to stress the cruelty of Europeans. Nor is it to stress the pain of a people whom I regard as my spiritual ancestors. That would be a futile gesture. Rather, what I want to point out is that the history of the region is unique in social and mythological terms. As most of us would be aware, mythologies or religions explain the beginnings of humanity and society as something created from something else: from something base or simple-- whether it be clay or egg, chaos or night -- cometh forth something noble or complex. West Indian society as we know it began in quite a unique and contrary fashion: the gods who landed found something inestimably precious, and they created out of it nothing, a void, in human, cultural and mythological terms. It is as if they found a most precious, fragile and fecund egg, then proceeded to suck the life out of it. Having devoured the indigenous meat, they sought to refill the shell, to remake the West Indies after a fashion into a wealth-generating thing. White peasant and criminal labour was brought in, but by then tobacco had been deposed by the more demanding King Cane. Since sugar cane needed more hardy human machinery, Africans were culled from their continent. I would imagine that most of us are familiar, many of us in abstract ways, with the horrors that accompanied the enslavement and murder of millions of Africans. Suffice it to say that these people were rooted out from a place where they had a sense of home and self, a sense of their rightful place in a continent rich in history, culture and tradition, where birth, life and death made sense. They were shackled and placed in the bellies of ships, with no more space to breathe in or move in than Europeans gave to their dead. Slave ships were spiritual coffins; human beings were packed spoon fashion, and it was in this tiny space that they ate, defecated, urinated, sweat and bled. And the fear was so imperative that even the gods fled; or, at best, were driven underground and transformed into other than themselves. After this horror ended, the horror of plantation life began. Each dawn broke like a whip upon the back of the slave; each night threw a pall over everything that was decent and dignified. Freedom was a grave away.

After Europe, stricken by conscience after a few hundred years, and now newly awakened to the idea that slave labour was no longer profitable, emancipated slaves into economic slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, Indians and Chinese were brought in as indentured labour. Other new "immigrants" were North Africans, Portuguese, Jews, Japanese, Syrians, and so on. By the nineteen thirties and forties, the stage was set for the only man-made culture on that scale in human history: many peoples, all unwilling to be where they were, all longing for other lands, all pulled towards different cultural imperatives and "purities". Each group antagonistic to the other. What they shared like an unvoiced pain was the consistent erasure of their humanity, the corrosion of the human person. The master himself was not exempt, for the cruelty that he visited upon others meant the diminishment of his own human stature. The luxury of the creation of whole and relatively harmonious societies is a recent phenomenon--phenomenon, because survival itself was nothing short of a miracle. Heterogeneity, even up to the sixties, meant that one obtained different groups living alongside each other but separate from and in great suspicion of each other. There were a series of cultural garrisons, a series of racial solitudes�a situation that exists even now in Malaysia, Singapore and other places that proclaim themselves multi-cultural. After centuries during which the human person was but an economic commodity and was as expendable as a coin, self was fragmented and unformed. And when self has yet to be recreated, society cannot labour into being. It is little wonder, then, that Anthony Trollope wrote of the West Indies: "No people there, in the true sense of the word." And closer to home, it is little wonder that V.S. Naipaul could have spoken of the "storylessness" and Orlando Patterson, the "historylessness" of the West Indies. To Naipaul's exclamation that "Nothing was created in the West Indies", Derek Walcott has replied that if nothing was created in the West Indies, then there was everything to be made.

What education was received made sure that White values and European civilisation remained paramount. Contiguously, all that was Black or local was disparaged. Consequently, the actual landscape of the writer was at odds with the landscape that inhabited the creative imagination. Self was at odds with self. The individual was psychically fragmented and culturally schizophrenic, reflecting the condition of the society as a whole. The landscape itself seems to mirror this sense of futility: the West Indies, a fractured archipelago, a broken backbone. The point here is that writers, when they looked around for a language, for metaphor, in which to speak their wholeness into creation, found nothing but that which was borrowed from or imposed by Europe. When they sought landscape, they found only jungle, volcano, plantation, beaches and sea, a landscape barren of the caveats of "civilised" society. When they groped for tradition, they found fragments, half-buried, half-excavated. When they glanced back for history, they found only indignity. Any quest for mythology yielded gods disappeared, broken or reshaped for having been placed upon the rack of experience. The only dignity, it seemed, was in Europe. Consequently, there was a great deal of imitative stuff written during the thirties and forties. They all wanted to be Keats or Shelley, Tennyson or Coleridge, Wordsworth or Arnold. They wrote blissfully of autumn, winter, snow, and daffodils--elements quite foreign to their actual landscape, but which belonged to the landscape of their imaginations. They wrote in a language that was contrived, wooden, alien to what they felt, to their hopes, and to their mission, a mission not imposed by some political, policing body, but by the necessity of history itself. And this task, above all else, was the re-assembly of the individual into a thing of dignity, wholeness and worth. The novelist, Wilson Harris, writes about the West Indies as a "cultural environment whose promise of fulfilment lies in a profound and difficult vision of the person--a profound and difficult vision of essential unity within the most bitter forms of latent and active historical diversity" (Tradition, the Writer and Society, 45). And that diversity, that bitter antagonism was both inner and outer, both social and psychical.

With the fifties and sixties came a renaissance of sorts, an eruption of the imagination that recognised worth outside of the metropolitan centres. But because writers were padlocked within the castles of their skins, because they were imprisoned within racial garrisons, the tendency was to write for or on behalf of narrow racial groups, their eyes glazed over with different nostalgias for racial beginnings outside the Caribbean. Always, home was elsewhere. Writers of African descent wrote as spokesmen for those who shared their racial heritage. The longing was to return to Africa, a movement that was solidified by Marcus Garvey, and that yielded what was to be a world-wide movement called Black Power. Those of East Indian descent looked to India, for what Naipaul terms an "Aryan" purity in Mimic Men; and everyone continued to look to Europe generally and to England specifically. This movement was triggered in part by the mass departure of writers from the West Indies: Edgar Mittelholzer and Jean Rhys were followed by the likes of C.L.R. James, George Lamming, V.S. Naipaul, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Wilson Harris, Samuel Selvon, John Hearne, Martin Carter, Roger Maise, Michael Anthony and Austin Clark. Derek Walcott was among the few to remain at home, writing out of Trinidad and St. Lucia.

Generally, it took distance from the West Indies and proximity to the "centre" to allow the scales to fall from their eyes. Each writer engaged in the painfully lonely task of writing himself or herself and the society into being, each in solitude putting back together the shattered vase of self and society. It is significant to me that not one of these was state-sponsored, although the temptation must have been great to accept such sponsorship. The one considerable talent which yielded, it occurs to me, was that of the poet Arthur Seymour, who headed the state-sponsored Guyana History and Arts Council which oversaw language and literature in that country. It is also significant that, of all, he is a failed talent, producing little more than politically sanctioned stuff which seldom rose above self-conscious nationalism, ideological absolutism. Yet, Seymour was among the first West Indian poets to have excavated fragments of the Indigenous Amerindian past in his poetry. To his discredit, he traded invaluable insights for the trinket of political influence.

The mould into which the human body is cast may be superficial, skin-deep; but skin, so easily ruptured, is not an easy thing from which to break free--so imperative is race, so tempting the old compulsion to return to the original state. The self-conscious, skin-conscious idea of belonging reduced art and literary thought to an ideological order based on race; thought and art predicated upon and predetermined by skin colour. To some extent, literary thought in the West Indies was affiliated to racial politics, both serving to polarise further a society that was fractured into so many pieces in the first place. Political militancy and coincidental artistic militancy may have been a necessary step in the evolution of literature, the individual and society, but it was a stage that presented the gravest dangers to all aspects of life, artistic and otherwise. This compulsion to write for one's skin is as grotesque as it is disturbing. In "What the Twilight Says", Derek Walcott writes:

The future of West Indian militancy lies in art. All revolutions begin amateurishly, with forged or stolen weapons, but the West Indian artist knew the need for revolt without knowing what weapons to use, and just as a comfortable self-hugging pathos hid in the most polemical of West Indian novels, so there was in the sullen ambition of the West Indian actor a fear that he lacked proper weapons, that his voice, colour and body were no match for the civilised concepts of theatre.... The West Indian mind, historically hung-over, exhausted, prefers to take its revenge in nostalgia, to narrow its eyelids in a schizophrenic daydream of an Eden that existed before its exile. Its fixation is for the breasts of a nourishing mother, and this is true not only of the generations of slaves' children, but of those brought here through indigence or necessity.... ["What the Twilight Says", 18-20]

Literature subsisting merely on ideology is little more than propaganda, things to persuade others and ourselves that our cause is great and just, our pain and deprivation tragic. Such a whine is emitted still in post-colonial societies to elicit the sympathy of the captors/slavers/masters and mistresses, white men and women. And West Indian literature is littered with such stuff, sooner forgotten; and, indeed, forgotten for the transience of their appeal. Derek Walcott, referring to this time when political posturing was very popular, writes:

Most of our literature loitered in the pathos of sociology, self-pitying and patronised. Our writers whined in the voices of twilight: "Look at this people! They may be degraded, but they are as good as you are. Look at what you have done to them." And their poems remained laments their novels propaganda tracts, as if one general apology on behalf of the past would supplant imagination, would spare them the necessity of great art. ["What the Twilight Says", 10]

The artist, then, needed to have turned away from this cloying temptation to stagnate, to rest easy in the lap of an illusory wholeness and healing, a place that offered immediate, localised reward and recognition. West Indian artists needed to break free of consolidated postures of protest, of flag-waving and fist pumping. Great art, as Walcott and Wilson Harris would agree, necessitated V.S. Naipaul's return to Miguel Street before he may return again to the enigma of his arrival; Edward Kamau Brathwiate's return to the West Indies after his rights of passage, his spiritual journey to Africa; Jean Rhys's imaginative turning back across the wide Sargasso sea to Dominica, especially, and to the West Indies generally. West Indian artists turn back to find themselves coming forward. It meant Wilson Harris embarking on an arduous journey, his characters engaged in a muscular struggle against themselves and their old racial and racist compulsions and roles which history had dictated to be theirs, a journey over many lives and deaths. The aim was always the sublime pleasure of intimate intercourse with rather than to inflict rape upon the landscape. It meant also poets like Walcott and Martin Carter stringing together with words--with the genius and patience born of love--the disparate islands with all their disparate peoples. Each bead or pearl a thing of worth, but only part of the jewellery recreated. It meant a simultaneous stringing together into one fantastic and precious item those beads or fragments within their individual selves. The beads are different; the jewellery sparkles with the colours of a rainbow.

But in order that this be done, West Indian artists needed to have removed their pursed and longing lips from the breasts of cultural mothers who were theirs and not theirs. They needed to have descended from the laps of luxuries, as it were, and to crawl on their hands and their knees, searching the land, listening to its tremors which were as the rumble of their own thoughts; feeling its pulse which was but the beat of their own hearts; harkening to the rush of surf, the torrent of their own blood.

If the vase of individual self lay shattered upon the stage of the West Indies, and if the society lay likewise, broken like islands upon the floor of the world, then so did language. Pieces of English, French, Dutch, Spanish. Pieces of Hindi, Arabic, Chinese. All these great languages; but they were but shards; shards, sharp, everywhere. And when the poet--crawling, humble assembler of things--picks up each shard, blood is drawn. But this is a sacrifice of necessity: the artist in search of form and language to envelope and convey artistic substance--form and language born of other forms and other languages, but different from all that went before. Each putting together, each reintegration, is a triumph of creation, unique creation. For broken things, however painstakingly reassembled, bear the marks of breakage, of fracture and fragmentation. So that the joy of completion is always marked with sorrow; what is found anew is the child of the old, but free from too great a resemblance to the parent. This is what I meant by not being entrapped by a single tradition or culture. Granted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, the second West Indian (Saint-John Perse being the first) to have been so honoured, Walcott spoke of,

The calligraphy of bamboo leaves from the ancient languages, Hindi, Chinese, and Arabic, on the Antillean sky. From the Ramayana to Anabasis, from Guadeloupe to Trinidad, all that archaeology of fragments lying around, from the broken African kingdoms, from the crevices of Canton, from Syria and Lebanon, vibrating not under the earth but in our raucous, demotic streets.

Each writer sat with an individual vocabulary to capture the story of broken humanity, stories to capture the "storylessness" of a people. There was the fundamental metaphor, but no uniform use of language; for uniform use, like uniform tradition, is alien to the Caribbean. Now, it is alien to the whole world. As I have said, language--like the person, like the society--was composed of shards on the ground. Pieces that bore the promise of a fractured wholeness, something "torn and new", to use the words of Edward Kamau Brathwaite in The Arrivants. Like paradox, always paradox. For the place began with an end, was born in death. And twilight contains the contours of the morning. Language, then, which has served to revitalise tired old tongues, was theirs to create. And this they did, each writer and critic bringing forth some kind of theory which was not theory but vision, a vision of survival in the sun, in the cauldron of their discontent. Each writer fashioned metaphor with healers' hands in a vocabulary different from the other, though the image be the same. It is impossible to mistake the language of Wilson Harris for that of V. S. Naipaul or that of George Lamming, the poetry of Edward Kamau Brathwiate with that of Martin Carter or Derek Walcott.

In much the same vein, Walcott lays claim to the multiplicity of heritages that have plagued and blessed the West Indies:

I was entitled to the feast of Hussein, to the mirrors and crepe-paper temples of the Muslim epic, to the Chinese Lion Dance, to the rites of that Sephardic Jewish synagogue that was once on Something Street. I am only one-eighth the writer I might have been had I contained all the fragmented languages of Trinidad. [305]

A remarkable confession indeed from someone who is a Methodist-Christian-Mulatto-hybrid. And one of the greatest poets of our time. This issue of tradition, of choice of tradition, has been and is of vital significance in West Indian literary thought. Cultural tradition is frequently yoked to ethnicity and subsists largely on homogeneous constraints, an idolatry of absolutes. They offer the temptation of wholeness, of a time, place and people without taint by contact. West Indians offered themselves up to cultural motherlands (or fatherlands) depending on the race to which they affiliated themselves: Chinese traditions for the Chinese-West Indian; to the Indo-West Indian, India; to the West Indian of African descent, Africa. And Europe offered a tempting model for all to live and write or paint or act by.

Yet, it was not simply a matter of "to the colour of your skin, choose". In Walcott's brilliant play, Dream on Monkey Mountain (1970), for instance, Makak is tempted by the vision of a White woman to seize upon his kingly African heritage. His reward would be to taste of her white flesh. But Makak is an old West Indian wood-cutter, and he may don princely African robes and live out his dreams of revenge, but his power is both illusion and delusion. He is, after all, still being manipulated by the White woman, the symbol of European cultural tradition. It is not simply a case of becoming white, of bleaching the mind and the skin; rather, it was to become more African than the African while contorting the mind ignominiously to European rhythms. On the other hand, Makak is tempted by Moustique, his friend on Monkey Mountain, who offers yet another absolute model by which to live and kill: capitalism. But Moustique is Black. These are the kinds of demons, in the end, which the West Indian must wrestle and vanquish (Samad, 1995). These are temptations that each of us still face, even now; even now, most of us are defeated by those temptations.

The great challenge which West Indian artists have taken up is not which tradition to choose, which cultural imperative to obey, which traditional monolith before which to genuflect. Rather, the great challenge was not to choose at all. For to have chosen one tradition was to have betrayed all others. Conversely, if they reject each, they have all from which to choose. The truth is that no heterogeneous or hybrid civilisation--and, today, the whole world is heterogeneous, hybrid--can afford to accept a total or implacable model upon which to base art or life. Yet, outright rejection of all models, or any model for that matter would be the folly of the vacuous. In "The Phenomenal Legacy" Wilson Harris ties together the issues of the old compulsion to choose one model of tradition with the more demanding new direction that art makes:

My uneasiness with the conventional character of the arts and of the novel goes a long way back. One aspect of this uneasiness springs from a growing anxiety over the nature of choices and the extent to which one is genuinely at liberty to make choices in the context of certain cultural and social and political forces. The constriction one feels may be traced to certain psychological biases, the principal one residing in our ingrained habit, the ingrained habit of a material civilisation, to extrapolate assumptions of character from a dominant model, to assume that a people or an individual ought to conform to particular models whether imposed or wished for--as if one could conceive of some advertising model of character from which, or upon which, all other private conditions are built. The tragedy of will with which one is involved--in this respect--lies in the contradictory forces which are set in train, since the true complex of one's time is open and transformative rather than static and imitative, multi-racial rather than racial. And the necessity of entering a transformative area of assumptions beneath one's safe crust of bias becomes increasingly imperative if we are not to succumb to monolithic callouses and complacencies in the name of virtue or purity. [Explorations, 44]

In drawing what he calls the "proportions of the ideal Caribbean city", by which he meant Port-of Spain, but which might well be Kingston or Bridgetown or Georgetown, Derek Walcott moves me to where I want to go, to where I was always. He writes:

Its docks, not obscured by smoke or deafened by too much machinery, and above all, it would be so racially various that the cultures of the world--the Asiatic, the Mediterranean, the European, the African--would be represented in it, its human variety more exciting than Joyce's Dublin. Its citizens would intermarry as they chose, from instinct, not tradition, until their children find it increasingly futile to trace their genealogy. [309]

This complex and provocative issue of genealogy--of losing one's way to find one's way, of losing oneself to discover one's self--this issue of untraceable genealogy is important, for heterogeneity has come to mean other than what it did, has moved into an uncharted and unfathomable territory. First, it meant a heterogeneous society in which people were living or refusing to live alongside each other, sharing a landscape which they despised since their hearts beat for lands different from that which their feet touched. Then heterogeneity implied individuals leaving their cultural garrisons for the wider space inhabited by a society reconciled to their paradoxical nature of being different and the same. Then it came to mean a mixture of the races, an intermingling of blood, moving towards untraceable genealogy. But now, no matter if genealogy may be charted to a single cultural or racial source, no matter in what colour is painted the skin--white, brown, red, yellow, black--it has become a profound issue of psyche, that place where we may witness a phenomenal accommodation of all influences, all races, all cultures. Is it not miraculous that one may establish or recognise a kinship with someone else that is far removed in looks from oneself? Is it not possible that someone in your midst may read and respond to my poetry, laugh with my laughter, weep with my tears, though he be not West Indian at all? May I not respond to his in like fashion? This inexplicable thing, this complex, has little to do with shared traditions of religion, history, language, or race. These may help along that which is there already: a shared fragmentation and re-assembly of self, a shared heterogeneity of psyche. I am not saying for one minute that the Asian or African or Southeast Asian who reads West Indian literature need not do his or her homework. Or vice versa. What I am saying is that the world of the latter twentieth century and now this century, like the artistic consciousness of this time, may respond to intuitive impulses far deeper than the "givens" to which the sociologists, historians, anthropologists, genealogists, and literary critics gesture with such frequency and freneticism.

And yet, in the very centre of this heterogeneous psyche of the West Indian resides a blank space, a potent gap that pays echoing homage to the history of loss suffered by the region. The artist becomes the work of art--sculpture, music or literature--with a pregnant hole in the centre. None is complete, but ceaselessly unfinished, evolutionary. This is the kind of legacy written into the tormented consciousness of Rhys's protagonist in Wide Sargasso Sea (1967).

Each work, apparently completed, is but a fleeting visualisation of reintegration, for certainty dissipates like fog in the face of the sun. Each work, or at least each great work to have come out of the West Indies is an omen from the Picasso-like Muse of the Caribbean, like her paradoxical embrace signalling, at once, farewell and greeting. By this I do not mean that we are the children of Sissyphus, to borrow the title of Orlando Patterson's novel. What I mean is that each work is a temporary triumph of creation and self-creation. A moment as tiny as a star in the eye of the artist.

The literature of the West Indies and its corresponding literary thought have broken free of ossification in the face of a Medusa-like history. They have evolved beyond chattering despair, bawling vengeance and self-embracing narcissism. They have gone, also, beyond the paved road of conventional prose, derivative poetry and postures of remorse. Instead they have turned away from the temptations offered by singular models of culture and tradition, choosing all instead. What is left is obedience to a much more demanding aesthetic which seeks to capture and dramatise the recreation of self and a society which that self may call home. Recreation from the fragments of psyche into heterogeneous or hybridised psyche, something "torn and new" ("Jou'vert", 270). Yet, the legacy which they give to the post-colonial world is not theirs to keep so much as it is ours to claim, if only we would claim it.


Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. The Arrivants. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Harris, Wilson. Explorations. Denmark: Dangaroo Press, 1981.

_____. "The Phenomenal Legacy" Literary Half-Yearly XI.2 (July 1970):1-6

_____. Tradition, the Writer and Society. London: New Beacon Publications, 1967.

Samad, Daizal R. "Cultural Imperatives in Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain". Post Colonial Literatures: A New Casebook. Eds. Michael Parker and Roger Starkey. London: Macmillan, 1995. 227-244.

Walcott, Derek. 1992 Nobel Lecture: "The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory." Southeast Asia Writes Back: Skoob Anthology No. 1. London: Skoob Books Publishing, 1993: 302-317.

-----"What the Twilight Says" in Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1970.

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