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Rethinking Postwar Anglophone Caribbean Literature
This edited collection challenges a long sacrosanct paradigm. Since the establishment of Caribbean literary studies, scholars have exalted an elite cohort of émigré novelists based in postwar London, a group often referred to as “the Windrush writers” in tribute to the SS Empire Windrush, whose 1948 voyage from Jamaica inaugurated large-scale Caribbean migration to London. In critical accounts this group is typically reduced to the canonical troika of V. S. Naipaul, George Lamming, and Sam Selvon, effectively treating these three authors as the tradition’s founding fathers. These “founders” have been properly celebrated for producing a complex, anticolonial, nationalist literature. However, their canonization has obscured the great diversity of postwar Caribbean writers, producing an enduring but narrow definition of West Indian literature.
Beyond Windrush stands out as the first book to reexamine and redefine the writing of this crucial era. Its fourteen original essays make clear that in the 1950s there was already a wide spectrum of West Indian men and women—Afro-Caribbean, Indo-Caribbean, and white-creole—who were writing, publishing, and even painting. Many lived in the Caribbean and North America, rather than London. Moreover, these writers addressed subjects overlooked in the more conventionally conceived canon, including topics such as queer sexuality and the environment. This collection offers new readings of canonical authors (Lamming, Roger Mais, and Andrew Salkey); hitherto marginalized authors (Ismith Khan, Elma Napier, and John Hearne); and commonly ignored genres (memoir, short stories, and journalism).
English Narratives of the Early Atlantic World
In Black Africans in the British Imagination, Cassander L. Smith investigates how the physical presence of black Africans both enabled and disrupted English literary responses to Spanish imperialism. By examining the extent to which this population helped to shape early English narratives, from political pamphlets to travelogues, Smith offers new perspectives on the literary, social, and political impact of black Africans in the early Atlantic world.
Freedom, Survival, and the Making of the Garifuna
In The Black Carib Wars, Christopher Taylor offers the most thoroughly researched history of the struggle of the Garifuna people to preserve their freedom on the island of St. Vincent.
Today, thousands of Garifuna people live in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the United States, preserving their unique culture and speaking a language that directly descends from that spoken in the Caribbean at the time of Columbus. All trace their origins back to St. Vincent where their ancestors were native Carib Indians and shipwrecked or runaway West African slaves--hence the name by which they were known to French and British colonialists: Black Caribs.
In the 1600s they encountered Europeans as adversaries and allies. But from the early 1700s, white people, particularly the French, began to settle on St. Vincent. The treaty of Paris in 1763 handed the island to the British who wanted the Black Caribs' land to grow sugar. Conflict was inevitable, and in a series of bloody wars punctuated by uneasy peace the Black Caribs took on the might of the British Empire. Over decades leaders such as Tourouya, Bigot, and Chatoyer organized the resistance of a society which had no central authority but united against the external threat. Finally, abandoned by their French allies, they were defeated, and the survivors deported to Central America in 1797.
The Black Carib Wars draws on extensive research in Britain, France, and St. Vincent to offer a compelling narrative of the formative years of the Garifuna people.
Religion and Identity in Guatemala
an Egyptian Sudanese conscript battalion with the French Army in Mexico, 1863-1867, and its survivors in subsequent African history
For several years, the armies of Napoleon III deployed some 450 Muslim Sudanese slave soldiers in Veracruz, the port of Mexico City. As in the other case of Western hemisphere military slavery (the West India Regiments, a British unit in existence 1795-1815), the Sudanese were imported from Africa in the hopes that they would better survive the tropical diseases that so terribly afflicted European soldiers. In both cases, the Africans did indeed fulfill these expectations. The mixture of cultures embodied by this event has piqued the interest of several historians, so it is by no means unknown. Hill and Hogg provide a particularly thorough, if unimaginative, account of this exotic interlude, explaining its background, looking in detail at the battle record in Mexico, and figuring out who exactly made up the battalion. Much in their account is odd and interesting, for example, the Sudanese superiority to Austrian troops and their festive nine-day spree in Paris on the emperor's tab. The authors also assess the episode's longer-term impact on the Sudan, showing that the veterans of Mexico, having learnt much from their extended exposure to French military practices, rose quickly in the ranks, then taught these methods to others.
In the late nineteenth century, many Central American governments and countries sought to fill low-paying jobs and develop their economies by recruiting black American and West Indian laborers. Frederick Opie offers a revisionist interpretation of these workers, who were often depicted as simple victims with little, if any, enduring legacy.
The Guatemalan government sought to build an extensive railroad system in the 1880s, and actively recruited foreign labor. For poor workers of African descent, immigrating to Guatemala was seen as an opportunity to improve their lives and escape from the racism of the Jim Crow U.S. South and the French and British colonial Caribbean.
Using primary and secondary sources as well as ethnographic data, Opie details the struggles of these workers who were ultimately inspired to organize by the ideas of Marcus Garvey. Regularly suffering class- and race-based attacks and persecution, black laborers frequently met such attacks with resistance. Their leverage--being able to shut down the railroad--was crucially important to the revolutionary movements in 1897 and 1920.
Caribbean Braceros and Their Struggle for Power in the Cuban Sugar Industry
Early in the twentieth century, the Cuban sugarcane industry faced a labor crisis when Cuban and European workers balked at the inhumane conditions they endured in the cane fields. Rather than reforming their practices, sugar companies gained permission from the Cuban government to import thousands of black workers from other Caribbean colonies, primarily Haiti and Jamaica. Black Labor, White Sugar illuminates the story of these immigrants, their exploitation by the sugarcane companies, and the strategies they used to fight back.
Philip A. Howard traces the socioeconomic and political circumstances in Haiti and Jamaica that led men to leave their homelands to cut, load, and haul sugarcane in Cuba. Once there, the field workers, or braceros, were subject to marginalization and even violence from the sugar companies, which used structures of race, ethnicity, color, and class to subjugate these laborers. Howard argues that braceros drew on their cultural identities-from concepts of home and family to spiritual worldviews-to interpret and contest their experiences in Cuba. They also fought against their exploitation in more overt ways. As labor conditions worsened in response to falling sugar prices, the principles of anarcho-syndicalism converged with the Pan-African philosophy of Marcus Garvey to foster the evolution of a protest culture among black Caribbean laborers. By the mid-1920s, this identity encouraged many braceros to participate in strikes that sought to improve wages as well as living and working conditions.
The first full-length exploration of Haitian and Jamaican workers in the Cuban sugarcane industry, Black Labor, White Sugar examines the industry's abuse of thousands of black Caribbean immigrants, and the braceros' answering struggle for power and self-definition.
While it was not until 1871 that slavery in Cuba was finally abolished, African-descended people had high hopes for legal, social, and economic advancement as the republican period started. Pappademos analyzes the racial politics and culture of black civic and political activists during an era fraught with successive political and economic crises.
Imagine the tension that existed between the emerging nations and governments throughout the Latin American world and the cultural life of former enslaved Africans and their descendants. A world of cultural production, in the form of literature, poetry, art, music, and eventually film, would often simultaneously contravene or cooperate with the newly established order of Latin American nations negotiating independence and a new political and cultural balance. In Black Writing, Culture, and the State in Latin America, Jerome Branche presents the reader with the complex landscape of art and literature among Afro-Hispanic and Latin artists. Branche and his contributors describe individuals such as Juan Francisco Manzano, who wrote an antislavery novel in Cuba during the nineteenth century. The reader finds a thriving Afro-Hispanic theatrical presence throughout Latin America and even across the Atlantic. The role of black women in poetry and literature comes to the forefront in the Caribbean, presenting a powerful reminder of the diversity that defines the region.
All too often, the disciplines of film studies, literary criticism, and art history ignore the opportunity to collaborate in a dialogue. Branche and his contributors present a unified approach, however, suggesting that cultural production should not be viewed narrowly, especially when studying the achievements of the Afro-Latin world.