K. L. Johnson II
25 September 2014
Commodification of Caribbean Culture in Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place
“If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see. If you come by aeroplane, you will land at the V. C. Bird International Airport. Vere Cornwall (V.C.) Bird is the Prime Minister of Antigua. You may be the sort of tourist who would wonder why a Prime Minister would want an airport named after him – why not a school, why not a hospital, why not some great public monument?” (3)
Jamaica Kincaid begins her novel “A Small Place” with this quote, full of factual information and questions underlined with a sarcastic tone. Surely Kincaid’s questions concerning the V. C. Bird International Airport are not without a bewildered gaze; why did he want an airport named after him instead of something representative of the island of Antigua, something that is permanently embedded in the culture of the island? As an American citizen who would be a tourist to Antigua, I would not be the tourist who would inquire about this airport naming; not until I read “A Small Place,” that is. With this introductory statement, I began to ponder why I would not ask this question, and then it hit me: I simply would not care. Why not? Because I am from America and my visit to Antigua (or any other Caribbean island) would simply be for a getaway from the daily hassles of my American life. I never concern myself with the commodification of Caribbean nations and culture in terms of imperialist tourism, but more importantly, Kincaid’s novel points out my participation in this commodification and helps in redirecting my gaze from a tourist to a native lens.
I vividly remember my first trip to the Bahamas (specifically Nassau) on my first cruise during Spring Break 2012. We boarded the Carnival Sensation and were immediately transported to a world that wholly juxtaposed our collegiate campus life. Bright lights, unlimited food, casinos, pools, and a liquor store which rivaled any landlocked ABC store grabbed, strangled, and locked away our tourist mentalities, only to release the initial memories bit by bit as a reminder when we, over time, forgot those first feelings of awe and amazement. And the amazement didn’t stop. Outside of the cramped living spaces and “shower” (which was really a curtain and a shower head), the cruise was amazing. And we expected it to be. I remember arriving to the port at Nassau. The cuisine of the day was “Caribbean” food, and it was a very good culinary experience. We indulged in the Caribbean buffet and made our way off of the ship into the streets of Nassau.
As lazy college students who had just individually annihilated a few plates of food, the last thing we wanted to do was walk around the hot streets of Nassau. We stopped to inquire about the prices for cabs, which isn’t terribly unfamiliar to our day to day lives in our respective cities of dwelling. Kincaid’s description of what seems to be my own interactions with the taxi driver in Nassau made me, for lack of better terms, embarrassed. She states:
“You see a man, a taxi driver; you ask him to take you to your destination; he quotes you a price. You immediately think that the price is in the local currency, for you are a tourist and you are familiar with these things (rates of exchange) and you feel even more free, for things seem so cheap, but then your driver ends by saying, ‘In U.S. currency.’ You may say, ‘Hmmmm, do you have a formal sheet that lists official prices and destinations?’” (5)
As a tourist, I did not have money that was exchanged for Bahamian currency, so I expected that the dollar amounts I was given would be in American dollars. However, why would we assume (as tourists) that our expenses in a tourist area would be “cheap?” It’s because we are aware of our surroundings and their less than “modernized” or “wealthy” appeal. However, even with this consciousness, there exists a sense of sympathy that accompanies the...
Cited: Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988. Print.
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