Caribbean Slave Narratives: Creole in Form and
by Nicole N. Aljoe
Nicole N. Aljoe completed the Ph.D. in English at Tufts University
(2004) and will be an Assistant Professor of English at the University
of Utah in Fall 2004.
And so, father and daughter walked through
what was once a great house, and they came out into the backyard,
where the only signs of a former life were the foundation stones
of some of the outbuildings, and faint gullies marking the earth
where others had been.
—Michelle Cliff, Abeng
In Michelle Cliff’s novel Abeng (1984),
Clare Savage and her father, Boy, spend an afternoon wandering through
an abandoned plantation that once belonged to their ancestors, the
white, slave-owning Savages. While the main house remains, only
“faint gullies” mark the presence of the slaves. Like
Clare Savage and author Michelle Cliff, I too am haunted by the
shadows of West Indian slavery because, unlike in the United States,
relatively few Caribbean slave narratives have come to light. Endeavoring
to ventriloquize these “lost” voices, many Caribbean
writers throughout the twentieth-century, beginning with Herbert
de Lisser in White Witch of Rose Hall (1929) and including
Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), re-created the lives
of Caribbean slaves in their creative works. More contemporary Caribbean
writers like Michelle Cliff in Abeng (1984), Caryl Phillips
in Cambridge (1993), David Dabydeen in Turner
(1994), and Fred D’Aguiar in Feeding the Ghosts (1997)
have also attempted to recuperate the Caribbean slave’s perspective,
re-write the story of slavery, and contest sanctioned history.
Current research by historians and literary scholars
indicates that, albeit not quite as numerous as United States slave
narratives—where according to Francis Smith Foster, in the
US alone there are “more than 6000 extant works generally
labeled slave narratives”—a significant number of African
Diaspora slave narratives have survived to the present day.
Generally defined as the written testimony of enslaved black human
beings, these stories manifest a vital, yet complex presence within
the narratives of the global slave-era. In addition to separately
published narratives, stories about the lives of slaves were frequently
incorporated within other texts such as travel narratives, diaries,
and abolitionist newspapers and also appeared in church documents,
conversion narratives, legal records, as well as other forms.
Although the majority of these documents exist in the colonial archive
and as such are entangled with the politics of colonialism, when
read against the grain of singular totalizing history, these narratives
provide an important resource for understanding the experience of
slavery and its aftermath in the African Diaspora. The global nature
of the slave narrative is a vital component of mapping African Diaspora
literary history, of “reclaim[ing] as [its] own, and as [its]
subject, a history sunk under the sea, or scattered as potash in
the canefields, or gone to bush” (Michelle Cliff, “Journey
Into Speech” 59).
Slavery in the Caribbean and West Indian
According to Orlando Patterson, “Since Eric Williams, scholars
have agreed that the Caribbean area is unique in world history in
that it represents one of the rare cases of human society being
artificially created for capitalistic purposes” (Sociology
37). Unlike the United States, the West Indian colonies were not
intended to become permanent settlements by investors, for instance,
on the island of Jamaica fully “9/10 of all the land under
cultivation by plantations on the island before emancipation was
owned by absentees” (Patterson, Sociology 37). Furthermore,
slaves in the West Indies were more likely to live on large plantations.
In fact, “three-quarters of slaves in Jamaica were located
on plantations of 50 or more slaves, whereas in the United States
less than one-quarter of slaves were located on such plantations”
(Engerman 265). Additionally,
Slaves in the US had more extensive contact with white
society in their daily lives. Moreover, in the US, even in the South,
the slaves were basically in a white society: even in those states
with the heaviest concentrations of slaves, whites represented one-half
of the population. In the West Indies, the share of whites was generally
on the order of 10%. (265)
These distinctions, including the fact that more
US slaves were native-born than were West Indian slaves (90% in
US, versus less than 75% in Jamaica), make clear the marked differences
in the conditions of slaves in the New World (265).
Yet, one of the most important distinctions was the Caribbean
itself: “an island bridge . . . connect[ing] North and South
America as well as the various traces of Old World points of departure,”
the Caribbean developed as “a series of artificially created
societies aimed primarily at production of resources as opposed
to permanent settler societies, a meta-archipelago” (Murray
177). Caribbean societies are marked by their nature as islands—foregrounding
fragmentation, instability, uprootedness, cultural heterogeneity,
contingency, impermanence, and syncretism (Benítez-Rojo 1).
Numerous critics and writers agree that there is a connection between
the geography and cultural context of the Caribbean and the writing
that is produced there. Benítez-Rojo
has argued, “the Caribbean text shows the specific features
of the supersyncretic culture from which it emerges” (29).
He goes on to explain, “Caribbean literature cannot free itself
of the multi-ethnic society upon which it floats, and it tells us
of its fragmentation and instability” (27).
This syncretism of the Caribbean does not imply that all Caribbean
cultures are the same.
Indeed, as Benítez-Rojo argues, the “Plantation proliferated
in the Caribbean basin in a way that presented different features
in each island, each stretch of coastline, and each colonial bloc.
Nevertheless, these differences, [do not] negate the existence of
a pan-Caribbean society” (72). This experience, writes Benítez-Rojo,
includes cultural components that come from all over the globe:
“European conquest, the native people’s disappearance
or retreat, African slavery, plantation economies, Asian migration,
rigid and prolonged colonial domination” (34). This distinctive
feature of Caribbean societies developed into new cultural and social
forms often referred to as Creole and had a major impact on cultural
production, especially during slavery.
These factors must be seen as contributing to the necessarily distinct
publication history of Caribbean slave narratives, which is closely
bound to the cultural history of Caribbean societies.
Caribbean and West Indian Slave Narratives
Although most West Indian slave narratives were published in
England, they are very much grounded in a Caribbean context. Narratives
such as The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave Related
by Herself (1831), Negro Slavery Described by a Negro:
Being the Narrative of Ashton Warner, a Narrative of St. Vincent
(1831), and A Narrative of Events, Since the First of August,
1834 by James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica
(1837), are primarily concerned with detailing the experience of
slavery and apprenticeship in the British West Indian colonies.
This is expressed in the titles of the narratives that draw attention
to place by markers like “West Indian Slave”
(emphasis mine). And although Warner’s title seems to obscure
the specificity of place with its appellation of the generic “Negro
Slavery Described by a Negro,” specificity is emphasized
through the subtitle “A Native of St. Vincent,” which
is enhanced by the first few lines of Warner’s narrative in
which he details: “I was born in the Island of St. Vincent”
(17). More explicitly, the narratives detail the desire of the slave
in question to return to the Caribbean. For example, at the conclusion
of Warner’s narrative, the editor includes a notes paraphrasing
Warner, in which she says he “is anxiously longing to return
to his colonial home and connections—and is suffering severely
from the effects of exposure to an uncongenial climate” (note
65-6). Similarly, in his Supplement to The History of Mary Prince,
Pringle comments that during an interview at the offices of the
anti-Slavery Society, Prince “expressed in very strong terms,
her anxiety to return thither [to Antigua] if she could go as a
free person” (95).
In addition to this stated desire to return “home”
to the islands, West Indian Slave Narratives share a number of formal
and structural characteristics: they are all set in the Caribbean
and offer specific descriptions and details of Caribbean slavery
(as distinct from the US context); they are all dictated texts;
there is an emphasis on orality—slaves spoke in Creole therefore
texts needed translation for British readers; formally they share
a concern with legal structure and language, with religious discourse
and imagery, as well as the question of black slave subjectivity,
ethics, and citizenship. Further, most of the narratives relied
on first-person narration and were purported to be “by”
the slave or free black narrator, and were primarily intended to
provide readers with authentic and authoritative evidence about
the details of the slave system in the British West Indies. This,
of course, was in concert with the principle rhetorical purpose
of most slave narratives, which was to persuade readers to support
the abolition of slavery. As William Andrews observes, the editors
recognized that, “first person narration, with its promise
of intimate glimpses into the mind and heart of a . . . slave, would
be much more compelling” (5).
Indeed, one could argue that most discussions of slave narratives
are about the question of voice, and concomitant questions of identity,
subjectivity, and power. Critic Dorothy Hale defines voice as “a
subject who is both more and less than an individual and stronger
and weaker than a free agent” (445). This definition, which
emphasizes the multiplicity and ambiguity of the notion of voice,
contradicts how voice has often been understood as an expression
of a singular experience. From this perspective, the connection
between voice and subjectivity is a direct one—to speak is
to be a subject in language and hence to assert agency. As a result,
most studies of the slave narrative genre have focused on single-authored
narratives, explaining that the impossibility of establishing the
authenticity of the narrative voice warrants the exclusion of dictated
narratives from in-depth analysis.
The association with voice and singularity becomes a more complex
matter when applied to Caribbean narratives. Rather than a single
authorial voice, the mediated nature of Caribbean and other early
slave narratives foregrounds multiple narrative voices. As Robert
Stepto explains, “in their most elementary form, slave narratives
are full of other voices, which are frequently just as responsible
for articulating a narrative's tale and strategy” (256). The
complexity is compounded by the fact that the narratives themselves,
while often primarily about single historical individuals (Mary
Prince, Ashton Warner, James Williams, etc.) were also intended
to be representative. As LeJeune has argued, desire for the singular
voice is not just wishful thinking on our part but rather is part
of the implied autobiographical contract, which assumes a transparency
between narrator and author. The editors of these slave narratives
were very aware of this desire for transparency and authenticity,
and attempted to inscribe it into the narratives. For example, in
most narratives the editors made explicit attempts to downplay the
other voices in the narratives. Although each slave author is clearly
and fully indicated in the titles of both narratives, the author
by-lines identify each editor, such "T. Pringle" and "S.
Strickland" respectively, in the case of the Prince and Warner’s
narratives. In his preface, Pringle explains that Strickland transcribed
Prince’s narrative fully. He then edited and “pruned
it into its present shape . . . It is essentially [Mary’s]
own, without any material alteration farther than what was required
to exclude redundancies and gross grammatical errors so as to render
it clearly intelligible” (55). In the preface to Warner’s
narrative, Strickland noted, “In writing Ashton’s narrative,
I have adhered strictly to . . . his own language, which, for a
person in his condition, is remarkably expressive and appropriate”
(15). These editorial assurances highlighted the simulated nature
of the assumed transparency in all autobiographical narratives.
Yet, throughout the body of these dictated texts, the voice of
the editor frequently intruded on the text. More than a matter of
the editorial exercise of power over the slave voice, these editorial
interruptions were intended to draw attention to the language of
the slave by asserting and assuring the slave’s voice. For
instance, when Prince describes her second owners, Captain and Mrs.
I—, she compares them to their house, explaining that “[t]he
stones and the timber were the best things in it; they were not
so hard as the hearts of the owners” (64). An editorial note
from Pringle claims, “These strong expressions, and all similar
characters in this narrative, are given verbatim as uttered by Mary
Prince” (64). Similarly, after Warner has explained his predicament
as a free child kidnapped by a disingenuous slave owner, Strickland
writes, “This is poor Ashton’s own statement”
(21). Throughout the texts, the editors interrupt the narratives
to assert the authenticity and authority of the speaking slave.
Despite these interventions, the convention of the editorial note
clearly and specifically delineates the difference between one voice
and the other, enforcing the distinction between the two, and complicating
the seamless and unified quality of the slave’s voice.
For a number of critics, one of the primary problems of dictated
narratives is the concern that “the slave’s voice does
not yet control the imaginative forms which her personal history
assumes in print” (Stepto 262). Control of the narrative voice
in these dictated texts is interpreted as resting firmly with the
editor. Others contend that due to the mediated nature of these
narratives, there is no subject or author behind these words. However,
critical work on dictated narratives by Beverly, Murray, Krupat,
and Sommer, has made it clear that assumptions of all-encompassing
editorial power are unsupportable.
These critics argue that dictated narratives are written dialogues,
in which both the voice of the narrator and the voice of the transcriber
work together to create the text. Although the editor or transcriber
might have had the last word in arranging and ordering the final
narrative, the oral storytelling of the narrator is a vital component
of the written product. The orator also participates in the creative
process by choosing and ordering what to narrate to the interlocutor.
The narrative could not exist without the participation of the slave
The oral nature of these narratives is foregrounded by the employment
of creole. In the narratives at hand, each editor makes a distinction
between the formal English into which the texts have been standardized
and the Creole or patois that each slave spoke. Pringle draws attention
to the “repetitions and prolixities” that were a hallmark
of Prince’s speech patterns, and which necessitated translation
for British readers (Preface). Strickland explains that she used
Warner’s own language, “adopting [it] wherever it could
conveniently be done” (Preface), also implying that Warner’s
natural speech or Creole required translation. The editors also
supplemented each narrative with notes explaining Creole words and
phrases used by Prince and Warner.
These Creole fragments served as the foundation for an illuminating
reading by Sandra Pouchet Paquet of Mary Prince’s narrative.
Drawing on F.G. Cassidy’s study of Jamaican Creole, Paquet
argues that Prince’s Creole is conveyed in part through iteratives,
repeated words often used for dramatic emphasis, “a distinctive
feature of West Indian speech” (54). Warner’s comment
on his “long, long parting” from his mother during his
enslavement illustrates this feature (29). In conjunction with the
reliance on iteratives, Paquet also draws attention to the customary
poetic turns of phrase that are characteristic of West Indian speech,
for example the use of salt water for tears: “Oh
the trials! The trials! They make the salt water come into my eyes
when I think of the ways in which I was inflicted” (54, 137).
Taken together, the iteratives and turns of phrase, peppered throughout
the texts, offer a refracted glimpse of slave Creole.
However, although Creole survives in both narratives in the use
of iteratives and turns of phrases, because neither Pringle nor
Strickland had spent time in the Caribbean, it might have proven
difficult for them to effectively transcribe the Creole of the slave
narrators. The results of having a transcriber who actually knew
and was familiar with West Indian Creole is manifest in James Williams’s
Narrative of Events, Since the First of August, 1834, by James
Williams, An Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica (1836). The text
was edited by the abolitionist, Thomas Price, and transcribed by
Dr. Archibald Leighton Palmer, a Scottish medical doctor who had
spent time in Jamaica and, most important, could understand Jamaican
Creole (xxx). The narrative recounted Williams’s experiences
as an apprentice in Jamaica and contained descriptions of the extreme
cruelty that continued and increased during the period. Although
few details are given regarding Williams’s life before the
apprenticeship period 1834-36, or of his day-to-day life, the narrative
provided a richly detailed portrait of the period. One of the most
remarkable features of Williams’ narrative is its pervasive
reliance on Creole (Paton xxxiv). Creole appears not only in descriptions
of his own or another slave’s speech: “massa me no able!
my ‘tomach, oh! me da dead, oh!” (15), but also in descriptive
sections throughout the narrative:
We know this magistrate come to punish we for nothing,
so we go over to Capt. Dillon at Southampton to complain; he write
paper next morning to police-station, and policeman take us home.
Mr. Rawlinson gone already, and Misses said he left order that we
to lock up every night, and keep at work in day-time, till he come
back — but police say no, Capt. Dillon order that we not to
punish till he try we himself on Thursday, at Brownstown. (7)
Such extensive employment of Creole is unusual. Indeed, most slave
narratives like Prince's and Warner’s, confined Creole to
the speech of slaves.
In narratives by ex-slaves such as Harriet Jacobs or Frederick Douglass,
formal English was a means of asserting intelligence. Yet in this
passage, the deployment of Creole asserts a sense of agency and
intelligence. Although narrated in Creole, Williams and his fellow
apprentices were obviously very aware of their “right”
under the law and were able to use their “native” language
to assert and secure those rights.
Creole also serves another purpose, interrupting the narrative
and creating a site of tension with the more formal English that
surrounds it. Some critics have argued that Bakhtinian ideas should
not be applied to Creole or dialect studies because, “one
should not confuse mere reified and externalized speech characterizations
with genuine polyphony,” and further that Bakhtin rather “specifically
withdrew his insights about the dialogic from anything as crude
and cosmetic as the surface features of the given language”
(Emerson 1). However, because Creole in these narratives is expressive
of an alternative worldview, it should be considered within the
purview of the dialogic. Moreover, Creole captures and conveys what
is distinctive about slave culture, and consequently provides evidence
of a different dialogic angle. Bakhtin himself observed in several
essays that languages have access to different systems of power.
Therefore, translated Creole, as in some of the narratives, can
be read as a sign of a different language because the implication
is that without translation Creole would be incomprehensible to
most readers. Indeed, both Pringle and Strickland implied in their
respective prefatory remarks that translation was necessary in order
to ensure readability. Consequently, within these three narratives
Creole subverts the consolidating and unifying power of formal English
by affirming linguistic diversity. In lieu of a singular voice then,
Creole attests to an inherent multiplicity within these narratives.
Thus, the narrative collaboration intrinsic to British West Indian
slave narratives creates a Creole text emblematic of the dialectical
relationships of power in the slave system. The combination of oral
and written forms and the number of voices operating in these narratives
suggest the need for a similarly multi-layered theory of reading.
The frameworks traditionally employed in examining single authored
texts cannot adequately contend with the multiplicity inherent in
these narratives. Reading for evidence of a dominant singular subjectivity—and
for the voice of the historical figure—will necessarily constrict
the heterogeneous nature of these narratives, effectively silencing
the testimony of Caribbean slaves. Because collaboratively produced
narratives are “inevitably multi-voiced, hybrid products in
which we can hear in varying degrees the speaking subject”
(Murray 179), readings that embrace theories of hybridity are in
fact more capable of accounting for the inherent multiplicity of
these texts. My goal is not to view these narratives as “corrupted
and inferior forms,” but rather to read them against the grain
of the colonial archive “as a new form which reflects precisely
the cultural limitations and contradictions inherent in a situation
where oral and literate cultures meet” (Murray 179).
Slave Narratives as Testimonios
One such multi-layered theory involves reading the narratives
through the lens of testimonios rather than as autobiographies.
Although numerous scholars writing on the slave narrative genre
have drawn attention to the narratives’ role and format as
testimony, none have made explicit connections to the genre of testimonio,
which can be defined as:
a novel or novella-length narrative, told in the first
person by a narrator who is the actual protagonist or witness of
the events she or he recounts. The unit of narration is usually
a life or significant life episode (e.g. the experience of being
a prisoner). Since in many cases the narrator is someone who is
either functionally illiterate or, if literate, not a professional
writer or intellectual, the production of the testimonio generally
involves the recording and/or transcription and editing of an oral
account by an interlocutor who is a journalists, writer, or social
activist. The word suggests the act of testifying or bearing witness
in a legal or religious sense. (Beverly and Zimmerman 173)
Some critics have argued rather forcefully for the connection
between testimonio and place—as a genre of as-told-to
life narratives that developed and flourished in Latin America,
especially in the 1960s, beginning with Miguel Barnet’s Biography
of a Runaway Slave, a transcription of the life of the 105-year-old
Cuban ex-slave Esteban Montejo.
Although Barnet invented the term testimonio with the publication
of Montejo’s narrative, in fact this format had existed long
before the 1960s. Indeed as Raymond Williams has argued, there is
a long history of oral autobiography by oppressed people that is
not limited to Latin America (qtd. in Beverly 71). Additionally,
arguments by Alberto Retamar and Orlando Patterson among others
who draw geographic and cultural connections between the Caribbean
and Latin America encourage reading these Caribbean slave narratives
through a Latin American socio-historical context.
What do we gain by treating these narratives as testimonios?
For one thing, it addresses the simultaneity of form and voice.
As a genre that transgresses the boundaries between the public and
the private, testimonio is defined as a syncretic form,
“it is placed at the intersection of multiple roads: oral
vs. literary; authored/authoritarian discourse vs. edited discourse;
literature vs. anthropology; autobiography vs. demography”
(Gugelberger 10). Testimonios—unlike most classic
autobiographies—do not simply focus on the inner
self, but also draws on communal experience. Furthermore, testimonio
allows a focus on the multiplicity of subjectivities at work in
the text without sacrificing the authority of these narratives.
In reading these narratives as testimonios, my goal is
to emphasize their complex dialogic nature and to move the focus
of discussion from the implicit individualism often implied in autobiography.
For example, one important feature of the testimonio
genre is the floating “I.” By this I mean, the “I”
has the grammatical status of what linguists call a “shifter,”
a linguistic function that can be assumed indiscriminately by anyone;
it is not just the uniqueness of her self or her experience but
its ability to stand for the experience of her community as a whole
(Prince 82). This floating “I” is manifest in both narratives.
Early in Prince’s narrative she details her first experience
with slave abuse by her second owners Captain and Mrs. I—
who whip another of their slaves, a woman named Hetty. Prince recalls,
“This was a sad beginning for me. I sat up upon my blanket,
trembling with terror, like a frightened hound, and thinking that
my turn would come next” (65). She imagines herself in Hetty’s
place, their bodies become interchangeable in Prince’s mind.
Although Prince does not share the same abuse at this time, she
does in effect switch places with Hetty after her death. “After
Hetty died all her labours fell upon me. . . . There was no end
to my toils--no end to my blows. I lay down at night and rose up
in the morning in fear and sorrow; and often wished that like poor
Hetty I could escape from this cruel bondage and be at rest in the
grave (66). Later in Prince’s narrative she declares:
Oh the horrors of slavery!—How the thought of it
pains my heart! But the truth ought to be told of it; and what my
eyes have seen I think it is my duty to relate; for few people in
England know what slavery is. I have been a slave—I have felt
what a slave feels, and I know what a slave knows; and I would have
all the good people in England to know it too that they may break
our chains and set us free (74).
The “I” of Prince’s specific situation and observation
switches to “our” and “us” by the end of
the paragraph—highlighting the metonymic function of the narrative
voice and its power to stand in for the experiences of the community
as a whole.
Although some critics would argue that these metonymic gestures
erase individuality, linking the self with the larger community
can be interpreted as a strategy of cultural resistance (Restrepo
41), when Prince speaks as an individual, different voices are communicated
in the polyphony of testimonio. Further, by linking herself
with several other collective identities, in addition to her fellow
slaves, she effectively contests the pro-slavery ideology that seeks
to isolate her. Testimonio represents an affirmation of
the individual subject by giving voice to the voiceless while emphasizing
the connection of that individual voice to a group marked by marginalization,
oppression and struggle (Beverly, Margin 35). Collective
identities allow Prince to appropriate a variety of voices and subject
positions and thus provide a strategy for cultural resistance in
a society that seeks to constrain her subjectivity. These plural
relationships of identification facilitate an understanding of subjectivity
as “internally fissured, available simultaneously for different
contexts” (Sommer 155), in which the Creole subjects of these
narratives—like the collective subjects of testimonio—disturb
and challenge the “hegemonic autobiographical pose of Western
Autobiography” (Sommer 146).
The multiplicity signaled by the polyvocality of the Creole testimony
of Caribbean slaves illuminates the complexity of the slave narrative
form. Far from a rigid or unchanging genre, it incorporates numerous
rhetorical and narrative strategies that develop out of each narrative’s
particular cultural context. Plantation slavery was a complex and
varied system of power relationships. I try to embrace this complexity
by attending to the various ways in which slaves communicated their
stories. Although the dictated narratives do not provide easy interpretative
access, they do have so much to communicate and to ignore them is
to silence once again the voices of Caribbean slaves.
It is quite possible
that additional narratives are languishing in libraries and archives
waiting to be rediscovered. Indeed in April 1999 in a lecture at
Harvard’s DuBois Institute, Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe announced that
he had rediscovered two “new” West Indian slave narratives
in the British Library. Here is just a brief sampling of narratives
of West Indian slavery: The History of Mary Prince (1831);
A Narrative of Events Since the first of August, 1834 by James
Williams, and Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica (1836); Negro
Slavery Described by A Negro: Being the Narrative of Ashton Warner,
A Native of St. Vincent (1831); Memoir of the Life of the
Negro-Assistant SALOME CUTHBERT (1831); Archibald Monteith:
Native Helper & Assistant in the Jamaica Mission at New Carmel
(1853) (ed. Geissler/Kummer); The History of Abon Becr Sadika
(1835); in Robert Madden’s A Twelvemonths residence in
the West Indies), A Dreadful Account of a Negro who for Killing
the Overseer of a Plantation in Jamaica Was Placed in an Iron Cage
Where He was Left to Expire (1834); Autobiography of a
Cuban Slave: Juan Francisco Manzano (n.d. 1830-50s); Autobiography
of a Runaway Slave: Esteban Montejo (1963); Seven Slaves
and Slavery: Trinidad 1777-1838: Firmin, Jonas, Daaga, Jaquet, Laurence,
Charles (Ed. De Verteuil 1992).
 For example, J.B.
Moreton, West India Customs and Manners (1793); Thomas
Thistlewood, In Miserable Slavery: The Diaries of Thomas Thistlewood
in Jamaica 1750-1786; Robert Madden, A Twelvemonths Residence
in the West Indies (1835); Lady Maria Nugent, Journal of
a voyage to and residence in, the island of Jamaica from 1801-05
(1839); Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis, Journal of a West
Indian Proprietor 1815-17 (1834); Rev. Weeden Butler (trans),
Zimao, the African (1800); Sarah Stickney Ellis, The
Negro Slave: A Tale Addressed to the Women of Great Britain
(1830); Christopher E. Lefroy, Outalissi: A Tale of Dutch Guiana
(1823); Elizabeth Charlotte, The System: A Tale of the West
Indies (1827); Mary Ann Hedge, Samboe, or The African Boy
Scholars such as
Stanley Engerman, Sidney Mintz, Barbara Bush, Verene Shepherd and
others agree that there are distinctions between slavery in the
United States and other parts of the globe.
For example, Kenneth
Ramchand, “West Indian Literary History: Literariness, Orality,
and Periodization,” Callaloo 2.11 (1988): 95-110;
Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays,
trans. J. Michael Dash (Charlottesville: U of Virginia Press, 1989);
Michael Dash, “Textual Error and Cultural Crossing: A Caribbean
Poetics of Creolization,” Research in African Literatures
25.2 (1994): 159-168; Sylvia Wynter, "Beyond Miranda's Meanings:
Unsilencing the 'Demonic Ground' of Caliban's 'Woman,” Out
of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women Writers and Literature, ed.
Carol Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido (Trenton, NJ: Africa World
Press, 1990), and Wilson Harris, "The Limbo Gateway,"
The Postcolonial Studies Reader, ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth
Griffiths, Helen Tiffin (London: Routledge, 1995), 378-382.
The connection between
place and literature is not a new one. Indeed, Philip Fisher has
detailed the specific connection between the American novel and
the American landscape in Hard Fact: Setting and Form in the
American Novel (1985).
I acknowledge the
difficult history of the term syncretism. However, it is the most
specific term to describe this process. My goal is to recuperate
this term because it captures the simultaneity that is not addressed
by the terms multiplicity and hybridity.
For my use of Creole
I draw on the definition developed by Kathleen Balutansky and Marie-Agnès
Sourieau: "Creolization is thus defined as a syncretic process
of transverse dynamics that endlessly reworks and transforms the
cultural patterns of varied social and historical experiences and
identities. The cultural patterns that result from this ‘crossbreeding’
(or crossweaving) undermine any academic or political aspiration
for unitary origins or authenticity" (3).
John Beverley, Against
Literature (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993);
Arnold Krupat, "Native American Autobiography and the Synecdochic
Self," American Autobiography: Retrospect and Prospect,
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