THE WEST INDIAN PEOPLE

Long after this territory had ceased to serve its purpose as an important contributor to the industrial growth of Europe, the spirits of that original enterprise still shape the structure of our new indigenous growth. Listen for a moment to the voice of another ancestral spirit coming to us from the slave tombs of Martinique:

“When I woke up after the drunken joy of finding myself free, the hard reality that stared me in the face was that nothing had changed either for me or for my friends who had been in chains with me . . . Like all other Negroes, I was still here in this accursed country; the bekes still owned the land, all the land in the place, and we went right on working for them as before.”

Those who raise anxious questions about the absence of a West Indian past and the terrible denial of cultural roots should ponder what hidden meanings lie behind that slave’s phrase: ‘the drunken joy of finding myself free’. What were the forms of association, the links and nuances of social encounter, which enabled him to experience and recognise the ‘joy of finding myself free’. Is it not true that wherever men are locked in a process of labour, the elements of a social past are at work?

I asked the spirit of Froude to confirm the original intention of that imperialist enterprise, suggesting that long after the territory had served its original purpose, the spirit of that enterprise continued to shape the structure of our indigenous growth. So let’s summon another witness to this ceremony of Souls; but let him be alive and at the centre of what he relates. The voice is from Trinidad, the time is now:

“Sunday, August 1, is the anniversary of Emancipation from Slavery.

For reasons known to the powers that be, it is celebrated as Discovery Day. Today, nearly 132 years after Emancipation the oil workers are offered what Texaco thinks is good for them, and the workers must take it, and keep on working, or else . . . . ”

The man’s name is Weekes, and he is the President of the Union involved. These words are not my words, nor is the witness of Froude my witness, nor is the message of the Martiniquan slave my message. I offer the texts, and my imagination chooses their order so that you might see what distillations of meaning they have for me, and the significance of this meaning in the creative thought of a man whose first business is the writing of fiction. I am therefore as much your guinea pig as you are my audience.

To revert to our original consideration of inheritance and situation! If our workers, both cultural and manual, have been plagued and perplexed to find a system and an ethos which would be an appropriate and creative alternative to the original enterprise which shaped our growth, is that a reason to despair? History has left a cocoon of confusion. First, a population composed entirely of emigrants! That is: people, slave or otherwise, who had no indigenous link, no ancestral claim on the soil which was to become their new home: a diversity of peoples organised by different European powers contending in a scramble for supremacy over them. This human diversity encounters itself in a state of original isolations; isolated, that is, by the lack of a common idiom, imprisoned by orders which were absolute! And most important of all, these were orders given in a language they could not understand; a language – whether it be French or English – which the stark necessity of survival demanded they had to learn. Consider the complex nature of language, language as it works beyond the simple requirements of giving information, language in all its manifestations of consciousness, penetrating consciousness!