28 April 2008

Dreaming of a New World (Movement²)

The New World Movement
The New World Movement that originated among Caribbean scholars and public intellectuals in the late 1960s, can probably be seen as part of that region's experience of what Immanuel Wallerstein has called the World Revolution of 1968. Many figures, locally prominent and some internationally famous as well had roots in this movement, or were associated with it, including: Norman Girvan, George Beckford, Clive Thomas, Walter Rodney, Orlando Patterson, Trevor Munroe, Lloyd Best, Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Richard Bernal, and many others.

Added to the independence movement of the 1960s throughout the Anglophone Caribbean, what was then a still recent Cuban Revolution, the rising to prominence of Rastafari and Reggae, and various open lectures in the region by C.L.R. James, and Dr. Eric Williams' speeches to public audiences in Port of Spain at what was dubbed the "University of Woodford Square", where he spoke both as a historian of repute and as an independence leader--these times were momentous and of lasting importance.
Lloyd Best, Trinidadian, recently passed away and his work especially as published in the T&T Review, and the work of the associated Trinidad and Tobago Institute of the West Indies and the Tapia House Group, also had a strong formative impact on my own thinking. Between Tapia, based in Tunapuna, and C.L.R. James who was born in Tunapuna, they managed to turn this otherwise marginal and rundown "town" in Trinidad into one of some world importance, and coincidentally I lived there for one rather trying year as a student (memories of hunger, heat, blackouts, rats, and huge toads).

The multiple currents of the New World Movement defy an easy summary, but I will try nonetheless. These currents included political economic analyses of the legacies of slavery and plantation society that paralleled the development of Latin American Dependency Theory. The foci were on greater economic, political, but also cultural autonomy; a quest to build the bases for a new Caribbean autochthony; a search for a new indigeneity; regional integration and collaboration between Island territories; a focus on local industry, self-reliance, and pride in local traditions, local foods; a sharp stance against transnational corporations and American cultural imperialism; a critique of monoculture and import dependency; calls for a new politics focusing on real and popular democracy rather than ossified forms of Westminster parliamentary democracy that allowed for bureaucratic and populist authoritarianism; a revalorization of local language and arts; the construction of a Caribbean philosophy and an investigation of the existence of a Caribbean civilization--all momentous, magnificent, and without rival since.

These were both popular and academic currents, where scholars communicated with broad publics, narrow audiences, and among themselves. The university was no longer an Ivory Tower but a hotbed for social transformation, sometimes to the great ire of national political leaders (Walter Rodney banned from Jamaica, and C.L.R. James ostracized by Eric Williams).

New World²
Since the late 1960s, a number of new schools of theory, research, and anaylsis have developed and taken root, in a ways that furthered, added to, or otherwise amended the research and activist orientations of the New World Movement. Among these we can include world-systems analysis, practice theory, Third World feminism, some form or variant of what some call post-modernism, post-colonialism, and critiques of Orientalism and Eurocentrism.

Perhaps it is due to the plethora of voices, of shades and inflections of tendencies, of overlaps and sometimes very abstract dividing lines, of a massive literature, endless conferences, and so forth, that I personally have lost a sense of the ‘crispness’, the sharp orientations that produced statements in bold relief that for me characterized so much of what was produced by the New World Movement, where “nuance” would have sounded like compromise, where compromise sounded like a call to more of the same old collaboration. Even in my relatively short life experience, nuance and negotiation, as academic buzz words are still relatively new, definitely post-1980s in my case.

More importantly, I have lost sense of locally rooted scholarship with clearly defined political orientations. I wonder if there are scholars “out there”, especially those with some connection to the Caribbean, who have had the same dream of “reviving” the New World Movement, with the aim of reexamining and building upon some of its central tenets:
  • bringing the promises of independence and decolonization to life;
  • achieving the development of local economic self-sufficiency;
  • popular democracy;
  • cultural autochthony; and,
  • social transformation
With the exception of perhaps a few holdouts, such as Latin American Perspectives and The Monthly Review, I can’t think of when the last time was that I reencountered such goals being openly espoused in scholarly writing, despite the mass-mediated notions that universities are bastions of some kind of socialist radicalism.

Principles, such as those listed above in rather un-nuanced form, in my mind become pertinent and valuable once again, if one sees the world as not having outlived and overcome colonial legacies; a renewal of imperialist projects (i.e., the “Project for a New American Century”); the revitalization of old discourses of civilization vs. savagery; the undermining of national independence; the hegemonic grasp of a capitalist world market that can be seen at its worst in bleeding nations that became dependent on imported foods rather than putting their faith in unfashionable ideas (for free marketeers and technocrats) of food sovereignty; the spread of a Western consumer culture and the expanded projection of Western tastes and values, with consequences for the environment, political independence, and sustainable lifeways.

The Caribbean, for those who live there, were raised there, or have developed personal connections to the region, stands out as one of the regions on earth that is most vulnerable to all of these changes. It would be fitting if a new, New World Movement were to emerge for what is, arguably, a region of world historic importance. This idea was well expressed most recently by Junot Diaz, the Dominican winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction, in an interview with Newsweek:

The Caribbean generally and the island of Hispaniola specifically is the linchpin, the pivot point where the old world swung into the new world. If you want the transformation point, if you want the ground zero where the Old World died and the New World began, it’s there. I mean, nothing is more quintessentially American-in the entire span of that description-than the Caribbean and more specifically the Dominican Republic. If you want to be incredibly grandiose, the entire world, we’re all the children of what happened in the Caribbean, whether we know it or not. I mean, the extermination of indigenous people, the conquest of the New World, slavery and in some ways the rise of this form of capitalism that we all live under. I mean really the modern world was given rise by what began in the Caribbean.

Those scholars and activists, writers, artists, anyone who would like to network and collaborate in collectively producing a new, New World Movement, let's get in touch, spread the word, and get started. We can't count on having the luxury of time.

19 April 2008

Aimé Césaire Has Passed on

Aimé Césaire died on Thursday, 17 April, 2008, in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Aimé Césaire was a poet and politician from Martinique whose influence in Caribbean philosophy and literature centered on the idea of "negritude" was as inestimable as it was transcontinental in spread. Césaire was a committed anti-colonialist and one who sought to cultivate pride in non-European heritage in the Caribbean, a movement that has inevitably informed and shaped some forms of indigenist thought in the region as well, even as in some territories it drew upon the indigenous experience as one parallel to that of Africans in the Caribbean. His Discourse on Colonialism, originally published in 1950, remains a vital text that has been through numerous reprints, translations, and republications.

He was born on June 26, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique, and was mayor of Fort-de-France from 1945 to 2001, apart from a one-year break in the mid-1980s. A former communist, Césaire served with the Socialist Party in France’s National Assembly, where he served from 1946 to 1956 and from 1958 to 1993. France's latest president, Nicolas Sarkozy, attempted to introduced a bill in 2005 that cited the positive role of colonialism, which Césaire stoutly opposed and which eventually led to the language being removed from the bill.

God rest Césaire's eternal soul and may his illuminations continue to guide us.

12 April 2008

Venezuela Indigenous News: Barí Disenfranchisement, and a new Yanomami Language Manual

Barí People Left Without Land by Oil, Cattle, Coal
By Humberto Márquez

KUMANDA, Venezuela, Apr 11 (IPS) - For 900 years, Barí indigenous hunters roamed freely throughout a vast region in western Venezuela. "Now they want to sentence us to die by locking us up in this corral, watching the white man get rich by destroying the land that used to be ours," says schoolteacher Conrado Akambio.

The huts and multi-family dwellings of the 150 inhabitants of the community of Kumanda are scattered over a hectare of heat-drenched grassland along the banks of the Aricuizá River.

The walls of their homes are made from tree trunks, the floors are packed dirt or a few wooden planks, the roofs thatched palm leaves. Everything is bleached a pale dry grey by the blazing sun. Children run and play among a handful of chickens as the adults seek a shady spot to sit and talk about their plight.

"Our grandparents fought to defend our land, but they lost their fight to the oil companies, who sent in men with rifles. Our people took refuge in the mountains, and then the cattle farmers came in and grabbed this," said Ignacio Akambio, another member of the community.

"We can’t hunt anymore, because all the animals have disappeared, and we have nowhere to grow crops," he continued. "And so we eat corn flour bread or spaghetti, and we don’t live to be old-timers like before; instead we are sick all the time and only live to about 60." It is a harsh fate for the people that Sabaseba, the creator, plucked from the inside of pineapples, according to legend.

Anthropologist Lusbi Portillo, from the non-governmental organisation Homo et Natura, told IPS that "the crux of the Barí people’s problem is that between 1910 and 1960, they lost their land and were decimated by the advance of oil exploration, first, and then by the cattle farmers who occupied and cut down their forests in the flatlands and pushed them towards the unproductive land in the mountains."...continue reading

New Compendium on Yanomami Language
By Humberto Márquez

CARACAS, Nov 23 (IPS) - When a Yanomami Indian dies, his or her name is not to be pronounced for some time, so as not to soil the memory of the deceased.

This may be a problem if, for example, someone is called Shoco, which is also the term for Tamanduá, an anteater that is common in the jungles of southern Venezuela and northern Brazil, where the Yanomami live.

However, the difficulty can easily be resolved thanks to the linguistic wealth of this indigenous group that has existed for over 25,000 years, a living testimony to the Neolithic era, the most recent period of the Stone Age.

There are several synonyms for the names of animals, and also of some plants. Therefore, ”aroto” means exactly the same as ”shoco”, and the community can use that word without violating the tradition that protects the deceased.

This explanation is provided by one of the 10,000 entries in the ”Compendio ilustrado de lengua y cultura yanomami” (”Illustrated Compendium of the Yanomami Language and Culture”), a book by French anthropologist and linguist Marie-Claude Mattéi that has just gone to print.

It is more than a mere dictionary, instead serving as an encyclopaedic manual that can be used in Yanomami schools and for outsiders studying the Yanomami language and culture.

After 15 years of research, ”we have concentrated our efforts on producing something more useful and rich in information than a simple dictionary -- a book that can support the didactic measures that the Venezuelan society and state have the obligation to undertake with respect to the indigenous communities,” Mattéi told IPS.

Venezuela's new constitution, which was approved by voters in 1999, dedicates an entire chapter to the rights of indigenous peoples, including ”the right to an intercultural and bilingual educational system that takes into account their special social and cultural characteristics, values and traditions.”...continue reading

Happy Garifuna Settlement Day: Cheryl Noralez


As we celebrate our arrival to Honduras let us not forget how we came to be in Central America. Let us not forget our history. Let us not forget that we are one people, the Garifuna Nation. We have always had a free body, mind, and spirit. The blood, pride, and courage of our Arawak and African ancestors remain in all of us. On this day take the time to learn and teach our history to the next generation. Tell them to not be ashamed to claim their heritage. Let us not just be proud to be Garinagu on April 12, November 19th & 26th. We should be proud to be Garifuna everyday of our lives.

"Garifuna Nuguya..Pantatina Lau"

Cheryl Noralez

Art About Arawaks: New site from Penny Slinger

In previous years, dating almost to the inception of the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink, we featured some of the paintings of Penny Slinger, a British artist who for many years resided in different parts of the Caribbean. The paintings we directed attention to focused on images of Arawaks, as they might have been preceding the arrival of Europeans. Penny Slinger has clearly dedicated a great deal more attention to these themes and has recently produced a large new website featuring a vast array of her images, including blockprints, drawings, pastels, paintings, and a video. Her site encompasses two themes: Arawak Art, and what she calls Island Art.

Penny Slinger's Arawak Art can be seen at: http://www.arawakart.com/

08 April 2008

The Garifuna Women's Project - Umalali

Richard Marcus in Blogcritics Magazine for April 7, 2008, has published a review of The Garifuna Women's Project - Umalali, which in what is overall a very enthusiastic piece (enough to convince me to see them in Montreal later this month, a stop in their Andy Palacio memorial tour), he explains:

Until now the only music from the Garifuna communities the world has heard has been that performed by the men. Now, after ten years of extensive field research and recordings, Ivan Duran, producer of Stonetree Records in Belize, has released Umalali, featuring the voices of The Garifuna Women's Project.

These women have learned the music and the rituals of their people from their mothers and grand-mothers in an unbroken chain that stretches back to their ancestors who first landed on these shores in the aftermath of the shipwreck which gave them their freedom. The songs that they sing are about their lives; the heartbreak of losing a son, the joy of a new born child, or finding a job.

For more on Umalali, I warmly recommend the beautiful and informative website at:
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04 April 2008

What Does it Mean to be "Indigenous" Today in the Caribbean?

A new forum discussion has been started on the Indigenous Caribbean Network. Depending on the level of interest, we might take this into the new chat room on the ICN. The outline of the intent of the discussion is as follows:

Indigenous can be read in many different ways. Some link the idea of indigenous to notions of race, to being "Amerindian", to ideas of ancient ancestry that predates that of all other groups resident in a given territory. Others see indigenous as being local, as belonging here, as being native in a broad sense.

Sometimes the differences in these ideas of indigenous can occasion real struggles, for example, the way the Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous People wants the Guyanese Government to stop using the term Amerindian (as in Minister of Amerindian Affairs) and to use the term indigenous when speaking only of those who have been called Amerindian. The government refuses, thus far, saying that all Guyanese are indigenous, as in native, as in born in Guyana and belonging in Guyana.

There doesn't appear to be a "correct" answer here that everyone will agree with, let alone a simple solution. I think the best we can do is to fully air all possible sides on this issue. Can "indigenous" in the Caribbean today really be a matter of "race"? Is indigenous rooted in DNA percentages? What do you think?
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03 April 2008

Indigeneity, Créolité, and Independence: Mylène Priam

In an April 3, 2008, article in the Harvard University Gazette we are introduced to Mylène Priam, an assistant professor of Romance languages and literatures, who argues that French citizenship for the locals of Guadeloupe and Martinique does not necessarily translate into their possessing a French national identity. Priam studies “Créolité” (Creoleness) which is a literary movement that developed from the 1980s onwards in the French Caribbean. The guiding idea is that a locally fashioned Creole identity and not French continental identity should lead in defining the islands’ cultures and literatures. As the article explains:

According to the authors, Créolité could provide a way for West Indians to have a say in their destiny. Furthermore, they argued, Caribbean identity could be defined not only by the legacy of French Colonialism and slavery, but rather by a flexible and unlimited combination of influences that might include indigenous Caribbean, European, and even Asian culture (among others).

Priam will be exploring these themes further in an upcoming book titled, Creole Soup for the Caribbean Soul: The Créolité Manifesto.

The reason for singling out this notion of Créolité is that it opens a long closed door to indigenous identity and indigenous presence in the Caribbean. It does so in a way that allows indigenous identity to be expressed not in the form of over emphasized indigenous authenticity, that could lend itself to the reproduction of well worn stereotypes that might be alien to the Caribbean region, but in a more realistic sense as part of a wider Caribbean fabric. One can see emerging ways that indigenous creoleness is being expressed on Trinidadian blogs for example (e.g. see Guanaganare in the recommended blogs list on this page), where aboriginality is fused with a broader sense of localness, of human universality, and of national identity, an uneasy mix but a much more lived and everyday mix rather than a bookish ideology, I think. This is another reason why we have so much to learn from the Garifuna--the only Caribbean culture (outside of the Guyanas) to retain an indigenous language (Island Carib), within a cultural frame that easily incorporates African and other elements, without any attempt to produce a hard edged look of indigenous purity. There is nothing "obvious" and plain about the Caribbean, and this has applicability for both the presumed absence or sometimes overstated presence of indigeneity.
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02 April 2008

Condolences to Carib Queen Valentina Medina and her family

John "Bertie" Medina, husband of Valentina Medina the Queen of the Arima Caribs, and great uncle to CAC Editor Tracy Assing, passed away today (Wednesday, 02 April, 2008). According to Cristo Adonis, in a phone call this evening, the tentative plans are for a funeral on Monday, 07 April, 2008.

I also knew Mr. Medina from the two previous times I lived in Arima (1997-1999, 2001-2003) and he was always a warm, gentle, humorous person. The photograph shown here was taken in August of 1997 at the Santa Rosa Carib Community Centre, where he was helping to clean rods used for the flags of the Santa Rosa Festival.

Roll Call for the Ancestors

It is very sad that in my limited time I have seen the passing of so many elders and key people in the Carib Community, including:
  • Justa Werges, the former Carib Queen
  • Alexander Calderon
  • Julie Calderon
  • Nemencia Calderon
  • Elma Reyes
  • Lawrence Augustus
  • and now Bertie Medina
Our condolences to the family, relatives, and friends.

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