CACTUS VILLAGE -AFRICAN SURVIVAL OR ANALOGOUS THEORY ?
W.G. Ogilvie who wrote Cactus Village, prefaces his novel, Dr. Ramchand tells us, with an attack on those ‘Aegraryans’ who wish the world to believe that all their ancestors come from Western Europe’ and ‘who dread any backward glance at our national beginnings’ . It is Africa then that W.G.Ogivie refers to. The black ARYANS, anxious to avoid Africa, therefore avoid what W. G. Ogilvie sees as their ‘national beginnings’. Dr. Ramchand uses this book to pose a non-question about the possibility of an African survival. Having posed a non-question, he gives a non-answer. But his main purpose, the rejection of the African connection has been achieved; and in an ostensibly liberal manner of ‘frank and free discussion’ Let us examine the manner in which Dr. Ramchand discusses the question of African survivals in West Indian Fiction: (Secular).
In Cactus Village, (1950) Dr. Ramchand argues,
“there appears to be evidence for those who argue that the system of exchange labour is an African Survival, and for those who take the view that the system evolves in different parts of the world in response to “analogous conditions.” (36)
What Dr. Ramchand is really posing here, are sociological theories about the extent of the African heritage in the Caribbean; and this in spite of his attack on his introduction on those misguided, second rate over· seas critics who do this:
“As the better metropolitan critics show little ‘interest in the literature of underdeveloped countries, it is always possible that in the hands of their colleagues, novels might become primary evidence ‘for theories about societies.” (37)
Not of course, that he blames overmuch these inferior overseas critics; after a:1 they are foreigners and lack the native eye.
“…. difficulties might well lie not so much in judging these works parochial as in becoming too engrossed in the raw material to apply critical standards.” (38)
We are supposed to register here that non-West Indian critics either consider West Indian novels parochial; and/or swept away by the raw material, they go overboard. If they manage to struggle to the shore, their critical faculties go beachcombing, drunk on the skokian of Caribbean prose. (39)
Even here, they are moressinned against than sinning. More in sorrow than in anger, Dr. Ramchand deplores the fact that these overseas victims were lead in to temptation by a certain kind of West Indian commentator with ” … a tendency… to value novels according to their immediate social or political relevance.” Both overseas and West Indian critics having been disposed of, that leaves us of course only with Dr. Ramchand, agonizing, in a critical Garden of Gethsemane, between ‘a disproportionate valuation of content as against form’ and a ‘an aestheticism that denied social function altogether.’ This Messiah -like role allows Dr. Ramchand to break the rules he makes for others. The novel Cactus Village is used by- Dr. Ramchand to propagate his theory about society.
This is done with the usual indirection. He quotes Ogilvie:
“Hezekiah was slim but wiry and strong. He was determined that none of these men who had given him a free day’s labour should do more than he. His axe rang out with the best of them. His blows were measured and slower than some of those of his companions, but he was very accurate . He very seldom made a foul cut. As time went on the others noticed that his voice called most frequently when a tree was about to fall.”
During this time the women were not idle. As the cutlass men cleared the bush, the women followed with long hooked sticks behind them …. All worked hard, but all were cheerful.” (40)
Dr. Ramchand also quotes Ogilvie’s explanation in which the author explains the ·established. custom’, among ‘the Jamaican peasantry’. According to this custom when a man had to start a new cultivation and clear the land, ‘he would call on his friends to give him a day’s work’. He did not y them but provided food and drink. In return he would give the same help when called upon. Ogilvie concludes:
“Still if a man were not very popular he would get only a few people to attend his ‘match’ and those who came would not labour very hard ” (41)
From these two passages Dr. Ramchand draws the comforting conclusions that
- Ogilvie abstains from claiming that there is an African element.
- Even if it were an African cultural survival, ‘Ogilvie was not sophisticated enough to be aware of it.’
- His seeming to celebrate this form of peasant life as peculiarly Jamaican tends to imply at least an unconscious leaning towards the ‘analogous conditions’ theory.
Dr. Ramchand then sums up:
‘The ambiguous case in Cactus Village 1s not of literary significance in itself, but it does help to demonstrate how elusive African cultural survivals in the West Indies may be, or at any rate how little scope there is for the West Indian novelist who wishes to evoke Africa in these terms.” (42)
We have gone a long way round with Dr. Ramchand to come to what was after all, his predetermined conscious leaning to the theory of ‘analogous conditions ‘ whose main importance as theory is that it negates the African connection.
For the non – question posed about the non – issue does not give the true force of Or. Ramchand’s evasion except we see it, in the wider and more obsessive context of Dr. Ramchand’s book as a whole. Indeed the chapter on The Negro starts off with the attack on Jahnheinz Jahn. which Dr. Ramchand later repeats in his article – CONCERN FOR CRITICISM rephrasing the same rancour against this German scholar who has dared to put forward the concept of a Neo-African Literature and a Nao – African culture in which the Caribbean is included. In his attack on Jahn, and on the West Indian Brathwaite, Dr. Ramchand is at his most dismissive; it is here we see the centrality of his obsession. Under the guise of inept criticism on the part of Jahn. Dr. 8amchand attacks what he says is Jahn’s idea ‘of a single traditional African culture’. Ethnologists, Dr. Ramchand assures us have stressed. “that there was a plurality of primitive cultures in Africa’.
Faced with the fact that Jahn is himself aware of the ambiguity of all approaches to the past; of the constant reinventing of the past which underlies any people’s concept of themselves, Dr. Ramchand denigrates Jahn for arguing that the ‘concept of a single traditional African culture’ is, ‘if not objective , a conception which ‘as it appears in the light of neo-African culture is the only true one, since it is the one which from now on will truly determine the future of Africa.” (43) Jahn sees that the ‘cultural bias’ necessary to colonialism sets in motion a dialectical process,
“For several centuries Africa has had to suffer under the conception of the African past formed by Europe, …
But the present and future on the other hand will be determined by the conception that African intelligence forms of the African past.” (44)
This complex process Dr Ramchand fails to understand, even though it is a process formulated with more awareness of its ambiguities by Fanon, whom Dr. Ramchand also selectively quarries, negating his meaning in order to defend Ramchand’s own theories. Dr. Ramchand manages to evade, his mentor Fanon, when Fanon argues as does Jahn:
“Colonialism did not dream of wasting its time in denying the existence of one national culture after another. Therefore the reply of the colonised people will be straight away continental in its breadth …. The unconditional affirmation of African culture has succeeded the unconditional affirmation of a European culture.” (45)
Fanon, does not attempt to deny or negate the dangers of this affirmation, but he sees it in its dialectical context as a ‘ historical necessity’. What he warns against is that if a mere stage in a process is taken as the solution, then the attempt to replace a national culture with an African culture’ will lead black men to racialise’ their claim to a denied manhood; and this will ‘tend to lead them into a blind alley’ .
Dr. Ramchand quotes this warning, without any awareness of its tormented complexity. In the same way that he dismisses Jahn, without accepting the fact that, the Nao-African theory, the unified approach, is a parallel reaction of elements of an original cultural pattern faced with the same dehumanizing process of colonialism.
The myth by which colonialism denied the humanity of the colonized, needs first a counter myth, in which the colonized claim their places as men; this is the universal ecumenical myth by which, we can approach nearer to ourselves . For as Fanon insists, a culture can only be national – not racial not universal. But the supra-national response to a supra-national colonialism is a stage in the journey, a perilous but necessary stage. It is this stage that Dr. Ramchand wants to avoid, and with one blind leap, reach for the ‘unity of man’, that false universality which Fanon condemned as the opposite danger to the ‘blind alley’.
Dr. Ramchand accuses Jahn of betraying the work of anthropologists who have proved,
“without recourse to myth, that far from being a land of savages from time immemorial. and long before the European incursions, Africa had been the scene of a number of advanced civilizations.” (46)
Which of course is not the point at all. We are grateful of course that Africa has been rescued from the void. But as Fanon points out,
” … you do not show proof of your nation from its culture but … you substantiate its existence in the fight which the people wage against the forces of occupation” (47)
The ‘fact’ of the past, opposed to the lies of the past is not the important fact; it is the creative myth of the past inherent in the cultural dynamic by which a people transform the colonial reality into genuine nation hood. It is this creative myth which lies at the heart of all cultures. We, as Caribbean men are concerned with four myths · in the most universal, the myth with which the peoples of the world can free themselves from a long history of exploitation by different minorities; the myth by which they can begin to write what Brecht called the ‘history of the ruled class’ as well as the ruling class; secondly we are concerned in the myth with which the majority Third World peoples must transform itself from the marginal into the main stream future of the world; thirdly, the myth by which people who inhabit African or African-descended cultures must redeem the notions of themselves as the dregs of humanity because ‘they aint got no culture”; fourthly and more precisely, the myth by which the native peoples of the Caribbean can actualize their nativity, economically socially, culturally, and so create a nation out of a country that as yet only has certain national manifestations.
There is no contradiction between these four. They are the synchronic and necessary patterns of our liberation; and none of the chickens come before the egg.
Neo-African culture and Neo-African literature is the witness to our involvement in the third aspect four human liberation. Dr. Ramchand interprets Jahn:
“According to this interpretation Neo-African culture arises out of the assimilation by the ‘traditional African culture’ of European influences.” (48)
Since Dr. Ramchand’s mission is the denial of the existence of this ‘traditional African culture’ m the Carib bean, he then goes on to state:
“But my purpose is not to examine the correctness or the possible relevance of Jahn’s views for the future of Africa itself. My concern is with how the West Indies and West Indian literature became involved in the neo-African theory.” (49)
In a footnote, Dr. Ramchand accuses Brathwaite of being influenced by the ‘Neo-African theory’ in his article, Jazz and the West Indian Novel. The reading of this article will show that there is no question of influence, Brathwaite comes to parallel conclusions on his own. He shows in this article, as Leavis does with Bunyan, the way in which an oral culture influences and creates the language of literary culture, pervading it with the stylistic elements of an oral culture. This process, as with Bunyan, is clearly seen in the Brother Man of Roger Mais. Dr. Ramchand’s total and arrogant incomprehension of this book leads not only to a distasteful comment aimed at Brathwaite who is said to “climax his case with a discussion of Brother Man, the worst novel by the Near-White Jamaican, Roger Mais’. ‘His later analysis of Brother Man is ludicrous; and painful to read. (50)
It is not only Brathwaite and Jahn who get this kind of treatment . Any critic who has studied Caribbean literature as part of a wider African complex, is at once dismissed. In the Introduction, Dr. Ramchand dismissed as ‘heavy handed’ the approaches which ‘include “West Indian writing’ s part of a wider unit’, especially those who “take notice of some basic features – the centrality of the Negro, the aftermath of slavery and colonialism, and the use of English in a community drawn from different parts of the world.” (51)
In his Chapter – The Language of the Master – he therefore dismisses, a book – Terrangha: The Case of English as World Literature (52). Among the varied reasons of its dismissal, Dr. Ramchand sandwiches his main purposes. Since English is a first language in the West lndies and Australia, while in Pakistan and Nigeria it is a learned and second language, Dr. Ramchand argues there can be little useful comparison between them. The West Indies and Australia, it is implied, have more similar problems in the U$0 of English than the West Indies and Nigeria. For, he goes on to argue, African writers “are able to draw upon resources in their social situation which do not exist for writers whose only language is English.’ (53)
The language problems of Nigeria with its numerous African languages, bear no relation to Caribbean problems. They bear no relation to Caribbean problems, because:
“for the modern West Indian writer there is no possibility of a choice between English and another language. English is his native tongue and he uses it as a matter of course.’ (54)
At one stroke the artistic problem which the West Indian writer faces of forging a new language from written English and for example spoken Jamaican, an African influenced Creole, is negated. When the problem is discussed by Dr. Ramchand it will be discussed under the abstract formulation of the gap between the language of the narrator; and the language of his character. That the language of his characters is heavily – African influenced is a consideration which is excluded from Dr. Ramchand’s eye-view.
It is not only the language approach which comes in for dismissal – but also the Commonwealth Approach. The point of this short chapter approached with Dr. Ramchand’s ‘circularity’ shows that the chapter should have been headed ‘the Black Approach’. But a spade is never called a spade. After delicate play as to differences between the white and black Commonwealth, and a judicious quoting of Fanon about the ‘dramatic problem’ of decolonization, Dr. Ramchand comes to the meat of the matter:
“Once a broad distinction is made, however, we have to give up the notion of a Black Commonwealth,. too. There 1s little sense of tradition or social convention in the West Indies, for example, no equivalent to the tribal world and traditional life which the Nigerian Chinua Achebe draws upon in Things Fall Apart…. commentators on West Indian Literature are only too aware of this particular distinction’. (55)
The commentator subsumed under the plural, is of course, Naipaul, for whom the entire Canbbean area is disintegration, void; for whom Africa does not exist, in the Caribbean; since nothing exists.
Yet this chapter, apparently inconsequential, innocuous under the old lady’s tea party Common wealth Approach label, is important. For it shows what we have contended, that Dr. Ramchand’s attitude to the negation of Africa is a political attitude by which he evades the present Caribbean reality; with its endemic catastrophic conflict and confrontation. Dr. Ramchand goes on to argue about ‘the idea of the Commonwealth as a way of approaching literature.’
‘In the first place’, he objects, ‘it forces us to concentrate on political and social issues to a degree that invests these with a disproportionate influence upon our attempts to offer critical opinions on what are, above all, works of imaginative literature.’ (56)
It is, of course, clear that 1t 1s not the Commonwealth idea that forces to such a task, but the imperatives of a critique of literature in which the truth contents of the works of art are as important as their subject matter · ‘the imaginative’ process of literature. But for Dr. Ramchand, Literature must not be a means to explore a society’s consciousness but a means to evade – a space craft taking off into the blue, existing ,n a free fall. What shocks him, he complains, is the consolidation of a “tendency to oversimplify the relationship between ‘focal literature’ and ‘local situation’ ‘from which it takes its stimulus”. This kind of criticism, Dr. Ramchand implies, can ‘stir up trouble’. Or as he, with usual sleight of hand, phrases it:
“These misdirections are particularly harmful in the West Indies where the death marks of slavery are still to be seen in the economic condition of the masses, and in race and colour tensions only on a more subtle scale than in pre-Emanc1pat1on society,” (57)
Dr. Ramchand hints at his distress that:
“So many West Indian writers make these the inspiration and the substance of their fictions that in the first critical book on Caribbean writing in general we read.” (58)
Dr. Ramchand then goes on to quote from Gabriel Coulthard’s pioneer ‘Race and Colour in the Caribbean’ in which he discusses the problem of Race, Colour and Culture in the entire Caribbean and the relation between the black man and the white world. Coulthard’s book and this problem is waved away without further comment since,
“In an earlier part of the book (i.e. the West Indian Novel etc.) a racial aspect of this boring socio-literary phenomenon was examined in detail and in a head-on way.” (50)
In the novels of individual authors, Dr. Ramchand says, ‘avoiding the more obvious race and colour and social protest themes, it is proposed to work by indirection.’ Dr. Ramchand of course, never works by any other method. Faced with the Pyramids, he avoids the Pyramids; and creates fanciful and evasive patterns from the shadows that they cast.
This ‘boring’ socioliterary phenomenon is, under the affectation, rot ‘boring’ at all. Indeed even where Dr. Ramchand claims to have tackled the ‘racial aspect’ ‘head on’, it is dear that the confrontation has been muffled. For what Dr. Ramchand poses with non-questions about ‘African cultural survivals’, in the Chapter headed THE NEGRO, is not a racial, but a cultural problem which, in the colonized and neo-colonial Caribbean, has assumed racial aspects. In fact it becomes impossible not to suspect that Dr. Ramchand’s own determined negation of the African connection is not itself tinged with a certain racist cultural contempt. So that when Dr. Ramchand, attacking Jahn, argues:
“Behind the peculiar circularity with which Jahn protects himself is the assumption of African cultural survivals in the Caribbean,” (60)
it is difficult not to paraphrase, that behind the peculiar circularity which Dr. Ramchand protects it is difficult not to paraphrase, that behind the peculiar circularity which Dr. Ramchand protects himself is the ‘assumption’ of the nonexistence of African cultural survivals, m the Caribbean; and therefore of the non-implications of the existence of such survivals.
Indeed, the indirect focus, through which Dr. Ramchand views these survivals gives us a clue. Dr. Ramchand tells us that:
“How the African cultures in the West Indies were modified physically and psychologically by the slave experience and the new geographical environment has already been demonstrated by historian · sociologists’ (61)
In a note, he tells us to see especially Orlando Patterson · The Sociology or Slavery. But there is no discussion of what Patterson actually says· because at no point in the book is there to be an objective examination of the African influence and element in the Caribbean. In fact, in his introduction to the historian-sociologists. Dr. Ramchand interprets: them as all agreeing that it is not the African origin, but the modification of slavery. a European economic system, – and geography that really matter. The cultural baggage that the slaves carried is skilfully avoided; and the modifications that this cultural baggage would itself make on the system of slavery and the environment, is ignored, in order to be side tracked.
Cleverly, Dr. Ramchand chooses his focus: “The treatment of African cultural survivals (secular and religious) by West Indian novelists consolidates such objective findings, and helps us to understand the range of attitudes to Africa and the Africans in fiction from the West Indies .” We are here at once faced with a misconception of magnitude. The basic difference between contemporary Western culture and all other precapitalist cultures, including the African, is that the secular is not distinct from the religious; the practice or skill or organization is not separate from the world -view . As we shall see later, this is where Or. Ramchand’s quotation from Cactus Village is subversive of his own rnterpretat1on. But for now, lot us see, what Dr. Ramchand has to say about an African survival that he calls ‘Obeah and Cult Practioes in West Indian Fiction.:
” .. the frequent occurrence in novels of obeah and cult practices has sometimes been held as evidence of survivals in the religious field. Few West lndian novelists these practices as anything more, in fact, than the incoherent remains of African religions and magic; and in all cases, obeah and cult manifestations are associated with socially depressed characters. It is possible, indeed, to be critical of the writers for having reproduced the social reality only too exactly, and without enough invention or imagination.” (62)
Here’s the rub. One of the most powerful springs of creativity in the background of the Caribbean novel, is to be seen only through the novels; without any attempt to relate the fictional version to the reality.
Yet, in the social and political and educational context of the Caribbean. the West Indian novelist, however well meaning, approaches Caribbean Cult religions through a web of misconceptions foisted on him by a Christian Western education. Even in his most anguished attempt to break through to the reality, his education had bred in him a pervasive curtain of prejudice through which he may glimpse the power of the cuIt religions; but only rarely understand the rationale. The rationale, highly logical, is not imagined to exist in Western scholarship; until the advent of the anthroooloq1sts. Their most powerful achievement was the breakthrough of Western intellectual arrogance which had assumed that ‘primitive people’ can’t think. It was only through turning to the ethnologist, and the anthropologists through the universal ecumenical highways of the revaluation of what Levi-Strauss calls ‘savage thought’, that we, as novelists are becoming able to ‘approach ever more nearly to ourselves’. The approach is through the intellect; the intellect in its true role as a releasing agent. Now one approaches with new eyes that which the insufficient intellect had condemned. As Levi-Strauss concludes:
“We have had to wait until the middle of this century for the crossing of long separated paths, that which arrives at the physical world by the detour of communication, and that which, as we have recently come to know, arrives at the world of communication by the detour of the physical. The entire process of human knowledge thus assumes the character of a closed system. And we therefore remain faithful to the inspiration of the savage mind when we recognize that the scientific spirit, in its most modern form will, by an encounter it alone could have foreseen, have contributed to legitimize the principles of savage thought and to re-establish it in its rightful place.” (63)
In dealing with Caribbean cult religions there is not one West Indian novelist who has not, through ignorance of the logic and rationale of these cults, failed in the truth content of our work; in the technical requirements that such truth content should call for. The total failure of my one and only novel, the betrayal which it constitutes of the imaginative reality of the Caribbean people, was never more forcibly brought home to me than by Dr Ramchand’s assertion that ‘few West Indian novelists see these practices as anything more than the incoherent remains of African religions and magic.” It is impossible to deny that by one’s own inadequate knowledge of the truth, and lack of the novelist’s craft, one should have placed the kind of cultural ammunition in Dr. Ramchand’s hand by which, basing himself only on our novels rather than on supplementary works of ethnologists and anthropologists he is able to reduce the imaginative experience of the majority of the Caribbean peoples to ‘incoherence.’
The incoherence of course, is in the eye of the beholder. We groped for coherence and failed. Dr. Ramchand looks for evidence of the incoherence which he requires; our failure provides him with the evidence. By avoiding the objective findings that are more than available in studies of Caribbean African based religions, he is able to u e his novelists; to manipulate them into making his kind of statement. Where the truth content of our novels, can, in spite of the technical failure, threaten his preconception of incoherence, Dr. Ramchand, misinterprets . Two other possible ‘African cultural survivals’ are discussed. The first is the ‘problem’ of the concubinage pattern rather than western marriage in which, as we shall show later, the real issue is avoided; in the second the example is taken from my novel, The Hill of Hebron.
Dr. Ramchand uses an ineptly handled part of the novel, a particularly inept part that is, in order to extend his concept of the slave experience making a tabula rasa of the African legacy. He argues:
“If African economic and social organizations were changed beyond easy recognition in the slave context, traditional arts and crafts were virtually wiped out. In this connection is useful to look at the only instance in West Indian fiction where an author allows a connection to be made between an element of West Indian secular life, end the African heritage. (64)
Dr. Ramchand tells us that Obadiah, ‘the central character .. is possessed of an instinctive skill at wood carving ‘ He quotes to reinforce this, and then points out that towards the end of the book,
‘..Miss Wynter introduces a second wood carving episode’.
He makes the point that the first time Obadiah had carved unconsciously; the second time, conciously, carving a doll for his child. He takes the doll down to the town and sells it in order to obtain food. The man who buys the doll, realizes that it has been carved from a legend, a belief. At least all this is made plain in the quotation that Dr. Ramchand uses. The man is able to recognise this, he is an anthropologist who has worked in Africa. My inept use of this symbol in the novel does not however justify Dr. Ramchand’s non-discussion as to whether or not a woodcarving skill had survived or not as ‘the instinctive expression of an obscure heritage preserved in the African personality.” And, according to Dr. Ramchand, whether this is so or not,
“Miss Wynter is careful not to show her hand.”
I wasn’t dealing with this question at all. What I wanted to show was the similarity and persistence of a world-view which in Africa and Jamaica still saw art as the ex pression of a concept of reality, embodied in certain beliefs, in a way of seeing the world . This survived not passed on in any blood and soil mystification, but in the rationale of a culture, which transplanted , had taken root conditioned by its new reality yet preserving certain basic concepts from the old discarding trivia. This is the connection this is what explains the powerful originality of the paintings and carvings of Kapo today . With the works of Kapo the connection is there. Kapo, like Obadiah, is a cultist. Only my writer’s inadequacy could have made his fictional counterpart seem ‘contrived’; and Dr. Ramchand ‘s desire to negate the connection.
The same distortion of focus is carried over into the discussion of concubinage patterns in the
Caribbean; patterns that as Ramchand shows, are central to the novels. This, he discusses as ‘another possible African influence’; and points to its pervasiveness among “Negro characters belonging to the socially depressed class”. He puts forward the view of Curtin, that ‘concubine age’ is ‘one example of the adaptation of African cultures to Jamaican life”. But only to deny this view Using a quotation from Lady Nugent’s Journal, Or. Ramchand argues:
‘It is possible to argue… that the conditions of slavery were by themselves enough to establish concubinage among West Indian Negroes, especially in view of the examples set by the masters and lamented by Lady Nugent. ” (65)
The masters, of course, for good or ill, had to set the pattern. Passive objects. the slaves brought nothing, for good or ill. Instead of adapting their former traditions to new conditions. as the masters certainly did with theirs, we are to imagine a tabula rasa, which receives patterns, but does not create. The essence of humanity, the universal quality which makes man is denied. Theirs is only a void.
Yet, as can be seen from the quotation from Lady Nu gen t’s Journal, the question of marriage or non- marriage from the masters’ viewpoint depended largely on which system would make ‘the generative belly’ – to borrow a phrase from Gilberto Freyre – generate more. Men and women were mated in the context of economic patterns. The promiscuousness of the masters paid off. Some of their own progeny made valuable slaves. The majority grew up to constitute the manager-agent Creole Class which served as a buffer between themselves and black revolt.
Far from setting a pattern for the slaves, the masters were prepared to accept those patterns which made it easier for the reproduction of more units of labour power. They were concerned primarily w11h economic results. This is not to say that their humanity, did not, now and then get in the way and muddle up the matter. But by and large there was always a rationalization read y. Lady Nugent, for example , argues for Christian marriage, by citing the case of married slaves who ‘have fourteen grown up children. all healthy field negroes’. Marriage, she writes, would produce enough slaves m the island to make the slave trade unnecessary. Marriage was both Christian and productive of labour power. Morality was profit able. Lady Nugent wrote out of the economic concept of Christianity which her capitalist culture had bred 1n her. The slaves, victims of this culture, alien to its concepts, came to see Christian marriage as a rite de pass· age to the world of the whites. But this crossing over was reserved for the few. The majority opposed 10 the Christian capitalist concept of marriage, adapted patterns of concubinage which responded more to the reality of their condition; but above all was an adaptation conditioned by the alternative cultural focus from which they viewed the world. And as we saw in Cactus Village this alternative cultural focus was part and parcel of an alternative economic tradition. It was this culture and this trad1t1on which had become indigenous.
Dr. Ramchand’s quotation from Cactus Village betrayed his intention. It negated both his and Naipaul’s contention that no social convention, no traditional values exist in the Caribbean. For Ogilvie describes in Cactus Village a way of life whose values are in direct opposition to the dominant Creole values of the off1c1al society. In the community of Cactus Village we find the unofficial Jamaica. Here, the relation with the land is a peasant and not a capitalist one. The Russian economist, Chayanov. has explored the economic differences between these two relations. Ogilvie’s Cactus Village shows that the differences are not only economic ones; but a difference of cultural values. In Cactus Village, in its world view, the economic motive is not primary; rather it is embedded in a web of social relations. Capitalist values – production for production’s sake, accumulation, the profit motive, the individual ethic are lacking; they are alien.
In the quotation from Cactus Village, Hezekiah does not conceive of labour as a commodity to be sold for wages. Chayanov sees this as the main difference between the peasant relation and the capitalist relation. The peasant-not the kulak class or middle peasant ·· who works his land without paid labour establishes a relation in which the category of wages, vital to the capitalist relation, does not appear. This relation cannot therefore be conceived or analysed in capitalist terms at all. In the peasant relation the prof it motive of capitalism, and the attendant concept of accumulation, is replaced by what Chayanov labels as the ‘ labour-consumer balance.’ The needs of the peasant and his family determine the amount of labour put into the land. To obtain the use of this land he will pay uneconomic rental; or if he is buying would pay far more than the man who, thinking in rational capita list term, calculating profit and loss, would ever be able to afford to pay.
The same balance of needs and labour extends out to the community. The concept of exchange lab· our practised in Cactus village springs from this central concept. Labour is socially useful. It is not economically profitable. Hezekiah is therefore not concerned with getting as much labour as he can out of the others. In a capitalist relation, this would be necessary. In a peasant-community relation, Hezekiah works himself harder than the others. His social usefulness is his test of manhood . The others come to work for him, to exchange ‘ labour’. They work hard in proportion to his ‘popularity’ , and his popularity will consist in the generosity with which he offers food and drink; in his willingness to work shoulder to shoulder with the others.
Hezekiah realizes himself through his performance within the framework of social values. Not only does he not exploit the labour power of the others, in order to accumulate capital at their expense; but whatever he had saved goes in food and drink for the others. By respecting these obligations , fulfilling them, Hezekiah gets the exchange labour of his friends. It he refuses to accept these values, he will have to clear his land himself; or hire labour to do it. He enters then, an alternative pattern of values; the capitalist relation. From the pre-capitalist world of use-value he enters the capitalist world of exchange value; begins to take place 1n the dominant Creole structure .
Yet, even as Ogilvie wrote Cactus Village the world of Cactus Village was already marginal. Since then, increasingly, the mass-communication media, supra-nation al monopoly capitalism extend the dominant opposed values through newspaper, radio, television. Consumer oriented advertising develops needs that cannot be satisfied in the labour-consumer equilibrium of Cactus Village. The exodus from the village, be fore a trickle, becomes a flood. The villagers erupt into the cities. The ‘yards’ now become central to Caribbean fiction. In the ‘yards’ the tension between the old values of a community existence and the need to discard the old value system if one is to get ahead, to divest oneself of humanity. The ‘yards’ become the focal points in which there is a tormented clash between cooperation and competitiveness. C.L.R. James ‘Triumph’, Mais ‘The Hills were Joyful Together’ and ‘Brother Man’ explore this urban alienation, this new dispossession. In the cities, the new marginal masses, emigrants from the decaying villages, try to hold their shanty world together with new shifts and guises as the world of the village with its stable values begins to tall apart.
They carry from the village to the city their Afro-Christian cult religions. They transmute them into new forms to accompany their psychic trespass. Folksongs are transformed into urban jazz, calypso, ska, reggae. These songs spring from the tension of a new exile; the same sense of exile out of which the novelists write. The songs like their cult religions are expressions of an a-capitalist sense of values, an a-capitalist cultural dynamic. In the purely capitalist plantation societies of the Caribbean, how did this alternative cultural dynamic arise? In the beginning the transported models were as much English as African. According to an early seventeenth century account, English settlers, many of them ex- soldiers, settled down side by side with the Maroons int he same peasant relation to the land. The English and Scots folklore component of Jamaica began its fusion with African folklore then. But the plantation system gradually forced the English settlers off the land. It was mainly the African peasant tradition which remained to transform itself; that was able to create a web of inherited and reinvented beliefs, with which they fashioned ‘surrogate autochtonous’ values. How did this come about?
This is the first of a two-part article. Part 2 will appear in the next issue of this Journal together with a rejoinder from Kenneth Ramchand.