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The Repeating Island – Representations of the Francophone Caribbean

With close reference to Benitez-Rojo’s notion of the ‘repeating island’, discuss how the Francophone Caribbean has been represented by writers, travellers and artists.   This essay shall focus on how various writers, travellers and artists have represented the Francophone Caribbean. The Islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti shall serve as the focus as these are the locations in the Caribbean where a Francophone culture dominates. From the art of Agostino Brunias, to depictions of Haitian revolutionary hero, Toussaint Louverture. From Martinican poet, Aimé Césaire’s, Le Cahier du Retour au Pays Natale to how film director Euzhan Palcy depicts Plantation culture in Rue Case Nègres. Of course, Benitez-Rojo’s notion of the ‘repeating island’ shall never be far from our minds and in order to utilise his ideas to full effect it shall be essential to firstly summarise exactly what this Cuban author refers to in his conceptualisation of Caribbean culture. Antonio Benítez-Rojo sees in the Caribbean a meta-archipelago that is affected by elements of Chaos that repeat across the different islands, incorporating a polyrhythmic essence that reverberates across the multilingual cultures that comprise the Antilles. In the postmodern, post-colonialist environment, the remnants of slavery cannot be escaped in that Plantation culture remains embedded, a core component of cultural discourses, resistance and a division along racial lines, more so than in other geographical regions of the world which adapt more readily to the global environment as they haven’t the same inherent difficulties as having to constantly define history, the oft suppressed history of the Atlantic Slave Triangle, the undocumented creolization, an oral history of African traces or eradicated Carib races or of illiterate Maroon communities who struggled against their Béké masters. The repeating island is a polyrhythmic syncretic agglomeration of different cultures that unites Africa with Europe and Asia with the Americas. Agostino Brunias was a London-based Italian painter from Rome, whose travels to the West Indies have bequeathed us with a rich vein of material of a not only escapist, but also romantic nature. Agostino Brunias ‘The Linen Market Santo Domingo’, ca. 1775   Agostino Brunias ‘Mujer criolla y criadas’, Saint-Domingue (Haiti), painted between 1773-1796     Agostino Brunias ‘Dancing Scene in the West Indies’, 1764-1796  In the first of the three paintings Brunias depicts a market scene. There is a stark contrast in the painting between the use of black and white, with the women mainly wearing white clothes. The…

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Review: Avengers of the New World – The Story of the Haitian Revolution – by Laurent Dubois

avengers of the new world

Saint Domingue was the Western French-owned side of Hispaniola. French colonists built it up into a wealthy imperial source of plantation economy produce, founded on the settlement of African slaves, products of the Triangular Slave Trade across the Atlantic. The hills and plains were dotted with sugar plantations and vast amounts of coffee and indigo were also produced. White settlers occupied only 10% of the island’s population, however, and as free people of colour (gens du couleur) became more of an entity, laments for freedom, using the terminology of the French Revolution’s decrees, were an increasing weight upon the colonial administrators. Settling African tribesman as slaves, such as the Ibo, proved problematic as they all would rather die at their own hands than submit to their slave-masters. Legends grew such as that of Makandal, and slaves began to plot in earnest. Eventually, a mass slave revolt broke out and the people fought their masters until slavery was abolished. With their new found freedom, the former slaves rebuilt Saint Domingue from the ashes of revolt and further into a final severing of ties with the colonial masters. New generals rose up in the army, culminating in the great Toussaint Louverture, who would lead his people into full-scale revolution against France and ultimately, although he was sacrificed, give way to the final freeing of the colony and the birth of the nation of Haiti, a nation of Blacks and the first successful slave revolt in history

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