Identity and Erasure: Finding the Elusive Caribbean
– Caribbean Autobiography: cultural identity and self-representation, by Sandra Pouchet Paquet. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. – Decolonising the Caribbean: Dutch policies in a comparative perspective, by Gert Oostindie and Inge Klinkers. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2003.
– Ah Come Back Home: Perspectives on the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, edited by Ian I. Smart, and Kimani S. K. Nehusi. Washington: Original World Press, 2000.
The Caribbean can be many things to many people: a geographic region somewhere in America’s backyard, an English-speaking outpost of the British Empire, an exciting holiday destination for North Americans and Europeans, a place where dirty money is easily laundered, and even an undefined, exotic area that contains the dreaded Bermuda Triangle, the mythical lost city of El Dorado, the fabled Fountain of Youth and the island home of Robinson Crusoe. Enriched by the process of creolization, the cosmopolitanism of the average Caribbean person is also well recognized: ‘No Indian from India, no European, no African can adjust with greater ease and naturalness to new situations’ (Lamming 1960, 34). As a concept or notion ‘the Caribbean’ can also be seen to have a marvellous elasticity that defies the imposition of clear geographic boundaries, has no distinct religious tradition, no agreed-upon set of political values, and no single cultural orientation. What, then, is the Caribbean? Who can justifiably claim to belong to it? Of the various peoples who have come to comprise the region, whose identity markers will be most central in defining the whole? For not all citizens of a nation or a region will be equally privileged and not all will have equal input in the definition of national or regional identity. In other words, because power implies a process of social negotiation, and because power is unequally distributed in social groups, some parties to the process will be more represented than others. This is where the notion of erasure is tied to any appreciation of identity, and played out in the history and politics of colonization and decolonization in the Caribbean. As might be imagined, the colonially-conditioned divisions of race and gender figured (and continue to figure) prominently in the entire process and bring to mind Bob Marley’s advice to Caribbean people: ‘emancipate your minds from mental slavery’ (Redemption Song).
Erasure is in large part the act of neglecting, looking past, minimizing, ignoring or rendering invisible an other. Rhoda Reddock (1996) examines the academic and political consequences of erasure at the level of ethnicity, and draws attention to four (among many other) neglected minorities in the Caribbean: the Amerindians of Guyana, the Karifuna or Caribs of Dominica, the Chinese in Jamaica, and the
| European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 79, October 2005
Sindhis and Gujaratis in Barbados. Although some of these are indigenous and some have lived in the Caribbean for hundreds of years, they are commonly overlooked, even by those who today claim ‘authentic’ Caribbean roots and a commitment to the region as an integrated whole. In this essay I focus on three recent studies that address the ways in which identity and erasure have come dialectically to embody several erased peoples and groups of people in the Caribbean. I begin with the contributions of Sandra Pouchet Paquet, who focuses on the heyday of colonialism, slavery and women in Caribbean history, and laments the fact that ‘The female ancestor is effectively silenced if not erased’ (Paquet 2002, 11) in the writing of that history. To this end she cites Carole Boyce-Davies and Elaine Fido, who, in assessing the literature and historiography of the region, also spoke of ‘... the historical absence of...