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Callaloo 25.3 (2002) 977-989
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"Dem tief, dem a dam tief"
Jamaica Kincaid's Literature of Protest
In 1951 British writer and tourist Alec Waugh published a short piece about Antigua in Holiday Magazine. After enthusing about the blue sea, white sands, and fine architecture Waugh turns to the people: "The Antiguans are a fascinating mixture of imported Africa and colonial England, and still retain the fetishes of the bush. 'Is good moon for planting tannias,' they will tell you. The moon rules their lives. . . Their belief in obeah—a kind of necromancy—persists" (Waugh 259). Soon after, he returns to the question of entertainment:
Sooner or later almost certainly you will find yourself included in an invitation to Mill Reef. You will be very foolish if you do not accept it. Mill Reef is very special. It is a private club for American membership only, where a large guest house provides resort facilities. . . Its members are hospitable and during the season from New Year to 15th April, stage innumerable lunch and cocktail parties . . . There is a youthful and gay atmosphere about the Saturday night dances. (Waugh 262)
Alec Waugh's Caribbean writings serve as a classic example of colonialist ideology from the era of formal European occupation. He presents the Caribbean as a playground for wealthy English and American pleasure seekers. The "natives" (in the background) are explained away as simple, superstitious, usually good natured (though sometimes inexplicably hostile and ungrateful), ruled by emotions and insufficiently rational to rule themselves. He makes no mention of the economic or political benefits of imperialism for the colonial ruling class; the Europeans rule the island to keep order and provide for the people. Similarly there is no mention of poverty, inequality, exploitation, racism; the social order is natural and beneficial to all.
In 1988 Jamaica Kincaid wrote A Small Place, a short but devastating exposé of the legacy of imperialism and new forms of domination in Antigua. This is her description of the same place and era celebrated by Waugh:
And then there was another place, called the Mill Reef Club. It was built by some people from North America who wanted to live in Antigua and spend their holidays in Antigua but who seemed not to like Antiguans (black people) at all, for the Mill Reef Club declared itself completely private, and the only Antiguans [End Page 977] (black people) allowed to go there were servants . . . In those days, we Antiguans thought that the people at the Mill Reef Club had such bad manners, like pigs; they were behaving in a bad way, like pigs. There they were, strangers in someone else's home, and then they refused to talk to their hosts or have anything human, anything intimate, to do with them . . . to us there they were, pigs living in that sty (the Mill Reef Club). And what were these people from North America, these people from England, these people from Europe, with their bad behavior, doing on this little island? (27-28)
Kincaid exposes the hypocrisy of the colonialist Waugh and shows the racist elitism behind his glowing account of island life for the wealthy tourist. Where Waugh describes generous American hosts, Kincaid portrays rude uninvited guests who use Antiguan land and labor while excluding all blacks from their private clubs. Kincaid reveals the exploitation and inequality lying below the beautiful surface of the island. For Waugh "[t]here are no obvious snags about Antigua" (259), but in A Small Place we are shown the unprocessed sewage floating beneath the blue water (14).
A Small Place provides a deeply satisfying response to the racist chauvinism of ruling class Europeans and Americans who used Antigua as their playground. The book insists that Antigua's current situation is explicable only in the context of a long history of economically driven external intervention. It draws attention to slavery—"it would amaze even you to know the number of black slaves this ocean has swallowed up" (14)—and never fails to show the driving force behind this trade...