Folkalization, Orality and Syncretizing in Derek Walcott

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Orality, folkalization and syncretising in Derek Walcott’s Ti-Jean and his Brothers

Walcott’s dramatic art is an artistic reservoir, reflecting the new intellectual trends of the twentieth century Caribbean world. The time when Walcott was writing marked a period of political and creative activity. Walcott himself pointed out the need for bringing together the different creative elements from African, European and West Indian art traditions. The most powerful among the indigenous cultural elements is orality that Walcott combined with Western dialogical form in his famous play, Ti-Jean and his Brothers. He himself termed it ‘My most West Indian play’. Christopher Balm in Decolonizing the stage, points out how the play combines African orality and local rituals, accepting obvious influences of Lorca, Brecht, and Noh theatre. Walcott himself acknowledges the folk tale and local festivals working their way into this drama: ‘Other Saint Lucian rituals came out too , branching from the simple roots of the folk tale such as our Christmas black mass dances of Papa Diable and his imps, the Bolom, or Foetus, and the melodies which they used.’(Derek Walcott quoted by Sharon Ciccarelli, 1979: 303). The second half of the twentieth century, particularly the decade from 1950-1960 saw a feverish political struggle in the Caribbean islands reinforced by an equally powerful impulse to develop a new assimilated theatre. Turning away from the westernized logocentric form of literature, the indigenous writers searched within to discover the strength of rhythms and styles culturally familiar to them. Balme observes how, during this period “the various plays and programmes aimed at demonstrating and producing an indigenous West Indian theatre all sought to quarry the rich mine of the expressive ‘folk’ culture: the musical, dance, storytelling, and processional traditions which contained a pronounced performative content”( Balme1999:44) When dealing with a play like Ti- Jean and his Brothers, it is important to consider how inextricably connected it is to the popular culture, religious rituals and folkloric techniques of presentation. Walcott does not draw from these sources simply to adorn his artefact; they form the very being of what he says. Talking about the rise of the indigenous Caribbean Theatre, Errol Hill stresses the significance of the practice of assimilation and the native dramatist’s urge ‘to seek inspiration from the indigenous theatre of the folk, not as curiosities but as the fibre from which a national drama is fashioned: the carnival and calypso, John Canoe and dead-wake ceremonies, shango and Pocomania, Tea Meetings, La Rose and vieux criose festivals, the Hosien and other Indian customs, native music and rhythms, dialect as a serious medium of expression.’( Hill 1974:34). There is however, one problem to be solved before the indigenous drama can begin its journey and that is how to bring together two different, apparently opposite impulses that govern the genealogy of the African carnival and the western theatre. The Western theatre operates by creating and maintaining a distance between the actor and the audience, the principal of the Carnival is all inclusive; if the first insists on the restoration and preservation of order, the other advocates a reversal of order. Hill believes that there are some adaptable features of the carnival that can be incorporated within the drama to shape the Caribbean national theatre; these include rhythm, dance/ song/ music, verbal delivery, performative skills as opposed to western theatrical gestures, indigenized language and masks and masquerades. Walcott ‘s play exhibits a masterful blending of the recommended elements to attain aesthetic and moral targets aimed at.

That Ti Jean and his Brothers is a story derived from the folkloric tradition, is a statement marking just the tip of the iceberg, because the enormous act of a playwright borrowing from...
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