Caribbean Literature

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Caribbean Literature

The evolution of Caribbean Literature started centuries before the Europeans graced these shores and continues to develop today. Quite noticeably, it developed in a manner which transcended all language barriers and cultures. Today the languages of the Caribbean are rooted in that of the colonial powers - France, Britain, Spain and Holland - whose historical encounters are quite evident throughout the region. The cosmopolitan nature of the region's language and cultural diversity develop from the mixture of European languages with Native American languages (mainly the Caribs and Arawaks) in the formation of creoles and local patois (hybrid languages) and those of Africans brought to the Caribbean as slaves, not withstanding the contributions of Asians mainly from India and China, and Middle Easterners.

The fabric of Caribbean Literature is woven with the historical issues of enslavement and forced migration, the related themes of home and exile, and colonialism and decolonization. The social and cultural themes of tradition, landscape, culture and community are also encompassed by Caribbean Literature. It also addresses such universal questions as identity, sexuality, family life, pain, joy, and the uses of the imagination.

It is virtually impossible to keep Caribbean Literature only within the confines of writings produced within the Caribbean Islands. Caribbean Literature also transcends the borders of Central and South America extending to the shores of Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana; and coastal areas of Colombia, Nicaragua, Belize and Honduras. Evidence of aspects of Caribbean Literature can also be seen in literary works produced in various areas of the USA including Miami and New Orleans. Works of Caribbean Literature have also been produced by people of Caribbean ancestry who live primarily in Europe and major urban centers of the United States.

Oral literature can be considered as the earliest form of Caribbean Literature consisting mainly of rich folk- tale traditions, legends and myths, songs and poetry. Today this legacy is resplendent in popular music such as the CALYPSO, the Cuban SON, and the Puerto Rican BOMBA; in the traditions of storytelling originating out of West Africa and India; and in supernatural tales from African religions, including SANTERIA, LUCUMI,VODUN (vodoo), and SHANGO. Proverbs, riddles, and sayings that reinterpret African, European, and East Indian traditions are also most prominent in Caribbean literature. Among these are Anancy (a cunning spider) stories; animal dilema tales, which typically teach a moral lesson; stories of village life or evil women; tall tales; and rhetorical flourishes, such as boasting, toasts, and speeches.

Autobiography and poetry were the most prevalent literary works from the 16th century to the mid - 19th century. In these works were introduced themes that became common in Caribbean literature; exile, migration, displacement and questions of identity. The history of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, (Related by Herself), is the most prominent of these writings in English. Early Caribbean writings in Spanish saw that of the autobiography of the slave Juan Francisco Manzano of Cuba in the 1820's and 1830's, Jose Maria Herida Placido ( a slave who was executed in1844 for his role in a slave uprising) and the Cuban anthropologist Miguel Barnet. Max Urena of the Dominican Republic produced nationalist works in the 19th century. The French speaking Caribbean saw works by Emeric Bergeaud and Desmevar Delorme.

Distinct national literary traditions began in the 20thcentury because few Caribbean countries gained their independence before this period. Twentieth century Caribbean literature can be divided into three periods: the first thirty years during colonial rule; the years just prior to independence between the 1940's and 1960's or later, and the...
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