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Behn wrote with sympathy toward the oppressed blacks.

Her character are so still, so perfect; we know that her

story is mere inventions. It is true she lived in Surinam and knew

the conditions of slavery there. "But she was a European: she

saw with European eyes, and she had European ideals.


Kenneth Ramchand, ed. West Indian Narrative: An Introductory Anthology

Nelson Thornes Ltd; Rev Ed edition (June 1980)

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West Indian Narrative: An Introductory Anthology

Edited by Kenneth Ramchand

Part I


Mrs. Aphra Behn -- Born in Kent, 1640. Lived as a child in Surinam. Died in England 1689. She also wrote plays, e.g., The Rover (1677-1681); and poems, e.g., "Love in Fantastic Triumph Sat"; and a number of novels.

Mrs. Behn is best known for Oroonoko or the Royal Slave, published in 1678. Oroonko, an African prince, is sold as a slave and carried to Surinam. He meets there his beloved Imoinda, who had been sold previously by Oroonko's grandfather. In Surinam, Oroonoko leads the revolt of slaves. Oroonoko surrenders when the deputy governor, Bynam, promises a pardon. Bynam tricks Oroonoko and the prince is beaten with great cruelty. 

This breach of honor causes Oroonoko to settle on revenge. First, he kills Imoinda, rather than leave her to his enemies, and she dies happily. Before he is able to execute his revenge, Oroonoko is caught near the body of his beloved and executed.

Behn wrote with sympathy toward the oppressed blacks. Her character are so still, so perfect; we know that her story is mere inventions. It is true she lived in Surinam and knew the conditions of slavery there. "But she was a European: she saw with European eyes, and she had European ideals. In inventing an African hero, she makes him an ideal European courtier. He is a scholar, a linguist, a soldier of great valour, a gentleman, and a prince" (Ramchand, 7-11).

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Matthew Gregory Lewis -- Born in London 1775. Died in West Indian waters on a return voyage. Educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford. Owned plantations  in Jamaica, visited them in 1815 and 1817. Publications include The Monk (a novel, 1796), Tales of Terror (verse tales, 1799), Tales of Wonder (verse tales, 1801; numerous plays; and Journal of a West India Proprietor (1834).

Matthew Lewis' Journal of a West Indian Proprietor, and Lady Nugent's Journal, may be taken to illustrate another way in which the West Indies and its inhabitants appeared in writing before West Indian writers began to speak for themselves. According to Ramchand, Lewis' Journal provides a good picture of plantation life and some details of a restless slave population. "They lied, cheated, and stole. They made friendships and  formed alliances. They loved and hated like free men." Some consider the Journal the best book of travel of the period -- it covers the years 1815-1817

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Lady Maria Nugent -- probably the first American wife of a British governor. Born in New jersey 1771. Died in England 1834. lady Nugent's father was a Loyalist -- on the side of the British Government during the American Revolution. When peace was declared the family emigrated to England. Her single publication is Lady Nugent's Journal (private circulation, 1839; general publication, 1907).

Lady Nugent's husband was a governor of Jamaica from 1801-1806. The Journal covers the period from 1801-1805. Lady Nugent wrote for her own pleasure, and for that of her children, not for publication, unlike Matthew Lewis. In 1839, however, four years after she died, the Journal was printed in London for private circulation. As a governor's wife, Lady  Nugent's journal contains information about the affairs of the governor and the people around him. There are scenes of slavery, and some glimpses of the lives of the slaves, according to Ramchand.

Lady Nugent met a group of "Eboe negroes" just brought to the island. "Lady Nugent does not idealise or europeanise the Negroes: instead she seems to take her eyes off the objects and give form to her own preconceived idea of the Negro--using those before her only as a kind of starting point," Ramchand concludes. In another entry, Lady Nugent encourages morality among masters so that marriage might be encouraged among slaves.

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Olaudah Equiano -- born 1748 in West Africa. Sold into slavery while a child. Worked in America and in the West indies. Bought his freedom and settle din England. Learnt English. His singular publication was The Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Cassa the African, Written by Himself (1789).

The Life of Olaudah Equiano  provides an early account of the West Indies and slavery written from the inside by an ex-slave, an African. While a child, Equiano was sold into slavery. Surviving the perilous crossing from Africa to the West Indies, he worked on an American estate. He served an English naval officer and was resold into slavery in the West Indies. Equiano learned to speak English fluently and became a skilled seamen and was a competent hairdresser. By petty trading in the West Indies he earned enough cash to buy his freedom and settled in England where he published his book.

Equiano presented his book The Life of Olaudah Equiano to the British Parliament as a plea against slavery. His narrative style is simple but effective, describing things and incidents as he saw them. But he looks for meaning, seeking to understand. He describes his attitudes and reactions to new experiences. But Equiano is more than a recorder. He is clever. He asks innocent questions about the appearance of white men and their home. He does not understand why men leave homes and families to take away forcefully others from their native country.

Source: Kenneth Ramchand, West Indian Narrative: An Introductory Anthology. London, 1966

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Black Yeats

Eric Roach and the Politics of Caribbean Poetry

By Laurence A. Breiner

The Flowering Rock Collected Poems, 1938-1974

By Eric Merton Roach

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Natives of My Person

By George Lamming

Natives of My Person focuses on slave traders of the sixteenth century. The novel reconstructs the voyage of the ship Reconnaissance, which is led by a character known as the Commandant. To atone for his past cruelties and barbarism, the Commandant plans to establish a Utopian society on the island of San Cristobal. The enterprise fails for many reasons: fighting amongst the crew, loss of interest, greed, and an inability to erase the past. The novel argues that an ideal society cannot be built by those who have committed moral atrocities and unnecessary bloodshed in their past. . . . Although Natives of My Person has a historical setting and deals with the voyage of the Reconnaissance, a vessel ostensibly engaged in the slave trade, a specific historical phenomenon, it is only partly accurate to describe it as a work of historical realism. Its realist component is not to be found in its fidelity to period costume, living conditions, or similar revealing detail. Instead of the veneer of verisimilitude that such usages provide, the novel locates its realism in the way in which it elaborately recapitulates an outlook.

George Lamming: Contemporary Criticism

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Season of Adventure

By George Lamming

First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have "pawned their future to possessions" and those "condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth." The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, "loud as gospel to a believer's ears," and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel.

Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong.Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . . The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.” 

His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform

Why We Need It and What It Will Take

By Bruce Bartlett

The United States Tax Code has undergone no serious reform since 1986. Since then, loopholes, exemptions, credits, and deductions have distorted its clarity, increased its inequity, and frustrated our ability to govern ourselves. At its core, any tax system is in place to raise the revenue needed to pay the government’s bills. But where that revenue should come from raises crucial questions: Should our tax code be progressive, with the wealthier paying more than the poor, and if so, to what extent? Should we tax income or consumption or both? Of the various ideas proposed by economists and politicians—from tax increases to tax cuts, from a VAT to a Fair Tax—what will work and won’t? By tracing the history of our own tax system and by assessing the way other countries have solved similar problems, Bartlett explores the surprising answers to all of these questions, giving a sense of the tax code’s many benefits—and its inevitable burdens.

Tax reform will be a major issue debated in the years ahead. Growing budget deficits and the expiration of various tax cuts loom. Reform, once a philosophical dilemma, is turning into a practical crisis. By framing the various tax philosophies that dominate the debate, Bartlett explores the distributional, technical, and political advantages and costs of the various proposals and ideas that will come to dominate America’s political conversation in the years to come.

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Ghosts in Our Blood

With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean

By Jan R. Carew

Carew, an activist, scholar, and journalist, met Malcolm X during his last trip abroad only a few weeks before he was killed in 1965. It made such an impression on Carew that he felt compelled to search out Malcolm's family and friends in order to flesh out the family history. He interviewed Wilfred (Malcolm's older brother) and a Grenadian friend of Malcolm's mother named Tanta Bess. Comparing his family's experiences with that of Malcolm X, he gives the most complete picture yet of Malcolm's mother. Carew also offers a tantalizing glimpse of Malcolm X's transforming himself into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, a man less blinded by his own racial prejudices yet as committed to the betterment of his race as ever. Just before his death, Malcolm X became convinced that a U.S. agency was involved with those trying to kill him, and Carew here reveals the evidence Malcolm X gave him to support these beliefs. The mystery of Malcolm's death remains unresolved, and we are once again filled with regret that he was cut down before he could fulfill the promise of his later days. While this book will not replace The Autobiography of Malcolm X (LJ 1/1/66), it is an important supplement. All libraries that own the autobiography should also purchase this one.—Library Journal

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 1 August 2012




Home  Toussaint Table    Inside the Caribbean  Negro Catholic Writers Table  

Related files: MAWA 2003  West Indian Narrative-- Part One  Part Two   Part Three  Part Four   Experiment in Haiti     Eric Roach and Flowering Rock 

 Kam Williams Interviews Colin Roach   Shake Keane   Filmmaker Molefi K. Asante, Jr.   Jan Carew  George Lamming and New World Imagination

 Toward the Seventh PAC