“They say it came from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukú americanus, or more colloquially, fukú - generally a curse or doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World. No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed fukú on the world, and we've all been in the shit ever since.”—The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
“People only say I’m angry because I’m black and I’m a woman. But all sorts of people write with strong feeling, the way I do. But if they’re white, they won’t say it. I used to just pretend I didn’t notice it, and now I just think I don’t care. There are all sorts of reasons not to like my writing. But that’s not one of them. Saying something is angry is not a criticism. It’s not valid. It’s not a valid observation in terms of criticism. You can list it as something that’s true. But it’s not critical. You may not like it because it makes you uneasy—and you can say that. But to damn it because it’s angry…. They always say that about black people: “those angry black people.” And why? You’re afraid that there might be some truth to their anger. It might be justified. I promise you, if I had blonde hair and blue eyes this wouldn’t be an issue. No one ever says, “That angry Judith Krantz…” or whatever. ”—Jamaica Kincaid in a “A Conversation with Jamaica Kincaid” by Alyssa Loh.
The Sea Is History
Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs? Where is your tribal memory? Sirs, in that grey vault. The sea. The sea has locked them up. The sea is History. First, there was the heaving oil, heavy as chaos; then, like a light at the end of a tunnel, the lantern of a caravel, and that was Genesis. Then there were the packed cries, the shit, the moaning: Exodus. Bone soldered by coral to bone, mosaics mantled by the benediction of the shark's shadow, that was the Ark of the Covenant. Then came from the plucked wires of sunlight on the sea floor the plangent harps of the Babylonian bondage, as the white cowries clustered like manacles on the drowned women, and those were the ivory bracelets of the Song of Solomon, but the ocean kept turning blank pages looking for History. Then came the men with eyes heavy as anchors who sank without tombs, brigands who barbecued cattle, leaving their charred ribs like palm leaves on the shore, then the foaming, rabid maw of the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal, and that was Jonah, but where is your Renaissance? Sir, it is locked in them sea-sands out there past the reef's moiling shelf, where the men-o'-war floated down; strop on these goggles, I'll guide you there myself. It's all subtle and submarine, through colonnades of coral, past the gothic windows of sea-fans to where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyed, blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen; and these groined caves with barnacles pitted like stone are our cathedrals, and the furnace before the hurricanes: Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmills into marl and cornmeal, and that was Lamentations— that was just Lamentations, it was not History; then came, like scum on the river's drying lip, the brown reeds of villages mantling and congealing into towns, and at evening, the midges' choirs, and above them, the spires lancing the side of God as His son set, and that was the New Testament. Then came the white sisters clapping to the waves' progress, and that was Emancipation— jubilation, O jubilation— vanishing swiftly as the sea's lace dries in the sun, but that was not History, that was only faith, and then each rock broke into its own nation; then came the synod of flies, then came the secretarial heron, then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote, fireflies with bright ideas and bats like jetting ambassadors and the mantis, like khaki police, and the furred caterpillars of judges examining each case closely, and then in the dark ears of ferns and in the salt chuckle of rocks with their sea pools, there was the sound like a rumour without any echo of History, really beginning.
Stand up. Stretch. Crack knuckles. The cracks echo and bounce across the quiet room. Three day old beard itches at the jaw line. Nagging itch. Peek through blinds. Orange sky dyed pink. Sickly pink. Pepto Bismal pink. Walk in a circle. Left, then right, then left, then right. Trance. I need a trance. Left, then right, then left, then right. Small circle. Dizzying circle. Left, right, left, right, left right left right left right left right. Stop. Sink into chair. Head still moving in a circle. Room moving in a circle. Stare at paper. Paper trembles. Pick up pen. Pen trembles. Maybe something. Wait. Maybe a line. One line. The first line. The first line has to be good. It’s all over without a good first line. Wait. Just wait.
- Paul Hadden
” ‘You say true, you say true. But you going see the town going choke up worse even. Whe’everybody going live? You see Shanty Town already down by Port of Spain people squeeze up worse than dog, worse than donkey. An’ when the women going wit’ the men what you think happen to them, eh? Answer me that brief, eh. What you think going happen wit’ them so? You well know, I don’ have to say, in a week time, in a mont’ time, something so, they going sell their c—- to the nearest money. It mek you smell hell in you’ nosehole.’
‘Old Boss, you right. Dey c—- is the only thing dey have, you right.’
‘That is it, man. Whe’ they going’ cook their food proper? You know how a woman like she cooking, how she like to hol’ a coo-coo stick in she han’ or mek up a pilao. She going finish wit’ all that big cooking, no mo’ four coalpot, oui, an’ how she going walk jus’ out o’ door an’ fin’ callalloo bush ready so fo’ she pot? No, man … “
- Ian McDonald, The Hummingbird Tree
Book #2: Island Beneath the Sea
My second choice for my book challenge is Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende. I love Isabel Allende as an author. I also love historical fiction novels on Antebellum America and Caribbean history when the Americas was young.
Island Beneath the Sea focuses on a young mulatto (bi racial) slave who becomes a concubine and eventually a free woman of color. Allende delves into the brutality of slavery, economic overtures of plantation life in Santo-Domingue (Haiti), religion and superstitions of both the Africans and Europeans, and the portrayal of women in early Caribbean( all women). The book is beautifully written. I am looking forward to getting lost into clear skies, blue waters, and green, hilly lands. I want to feel the beat of the African drums, the pain of slaves being used as beast of burdens, the desperation of women as they try to sustain in a male European dominate world, the call of freedom, and ultimately call of ancestors that lie in the Island Beneath Sea.
“Eventually, Elizete comes to understand and respect the position Verlia holds—the fact that the female body is a revolutionary force. Additionally, as Brand repeatedly reminds the reader through bright imagery, the body is also a revolutionary force because it acts as a living historical record of the oppressors’ oppression. The scars, which Elizete carry upon her legs from the whip wielded by Isaiah, are a testament to the oppressive yoke the revolution aims to break. This uneasy relationship between oppression and revolution is physically embodied in Verlia and Elizete. The way Verlia likes to kiss—kisses serving as a romantic gesture and a symbolic one of healing, the perception that a kiss can be physically therapeutic; the scars left by Isaiah speaks to the way the revolution desires to heal the affects of the oppressive force. ”—
Me, The Revolutionary Body: The Caribbean Woman as a Tool of Resistance
I have no idea if this makes sense, but it sounds good at 5 in the morning.
“It was Miss Edward's way to ask one of us a question the to which she was sure the girl would not know and then put the same question to another girl who she was sure would know the answer. The girl who did not answer correctly would then have to repeat the correct answer in the exact words of the other girl. Many times, I had heard my exact words repeated over and over again and I liked it especially when the girl doing the repeating was one I didn't care about very much. Pointing a finger at Ruth, Miss Edward asked a question the answer to which was 'On the third of November 1493, a Sunday morning, Christopher Columbus discovered Dominica.' Ruth, of course, did not know the answer, as she did not know the answer to many questions about the West Indies. I could hardly blame her. Ruth had come all the way from England. Perhaps she did not want to be in the West Indies at all. Perhaps she wanted to be in England, where no one would remind her constantly of the terrible things her ancestors had done; perhaps she had felt even worse when her father was a missionary in Africa. I could see how Ruth felt from looking at her face. Her ancestors had been the masters, while ours had been the slaves. She had such a lot to be ashamed of, and by being with us every day she was always being reminded. We could look everybody in the eye, for our ancestors had done nothing wrong except just sit somewhere, defenseless. Of course, sometimes, what with our teachers and our books, it was hard for us to tell on which side we really now belonged — with the masters or the slaves — for it was all history, it was all in the past, and everybody behaved differently now; all of us celebrated Queen Victoria's birthday, even though she had been dead a long time. But we, the descendants of the slaves, knew quite well what had really happened, and I was sure that if the tables had been turned we would have acted differently; I was sure that if our ancestors had gone from Africa to Europe and come upon the people living there, they would have taken a proper interest in the Europeans on first seeing them, and said, 'How nice,' and then gone home to tell their friends about it.”—
an except from Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (chapter entitled “Columbus in Chains”)
My English teacher kinda ruined Annie John for me back in 12th grade, but this was the part that really caught my eye and that I remembered since. So when we were assigned this passage to read for my Caribbean Women’s Lit class, I got really excited. Moreso because of all the research showing how diverse Europe was pre-1492.
I found a really great Caribbean blogger who even writes the way he says his words like “I wukkin down near de heart of TIFF these days.”
And it’s just so perfect. I really like it.
It’s just that I can’t find shit like his birthday, or where he stays, or where he’s from. bhvdfjksbvjfbdm,nfzbhjs dammit ):