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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: Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal – by Aimé Césaire

cahier d'un retour au pays natal

Aimé Césaire is the father of Martinican literature. In his Cahier, he explores his roots in his native Martinique and looks with an often angry voice at the repression of his fellow islanders. The Cahier is a poem directed at enlightening the views of his fellow countrymen and giving them a point at which to resist their colonial masters, to escape the bonds of Negrédom, the chains of slavery that bound them in the triangular slave trade culture and left them in the sugar cane fields of Martinique. A founding father of the black movement in literature, Négritude, Césaire explores the roots of slavery and his négritude is a self-revealing look at how he is perceived by the world, due to his skin colour. The poetic text is often violent and revealing and he uses a variety of different methods to shock and disturb the reader. One is always looking for an identity of Martinique and the author succeeds in describing the island’s features, its fauna and flora, its colonial past, its poverty and hunger and suffering of the population. As we move through the book, the racial voice progresses until we hear a potent cry of anger about this inequality, the way in which his race restricts his world view and aspirations. I found the book, convenient in its parallel text, usefully translated, and a positive journey into the Caribbean. In the twenty-first century we still have not unshackled racism from our society and slavery is very much alive, if not as a political reality, but as an enchaining colonial restriction upon the black inhabitants of Martinique and its Caribbean cousins. It must be stressed how important a work this must be to natives of Martinique and the foundation point it is for black literature. I studied this book as part of my ‘Imaging The Islands’ course at Cardiff University’s School of Modern Languages.

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