If You Don’t Know Who You Are, Then You’re No­body!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - NATIONAL DAY -

Dur­ing a re­cent episode of his TV show with Buf­falo Od­lum as his guest, Rick Wayne re­called some­thing he had read by Derek Wal­cott. (I want to say it could’ve been Naipaul, but hes­i­tate . . .): ‘We have a black­ness im­i­ta­tive of an African.’ “Be­cause of that,” Wayne went on, “we like to tell our­selves we are African. Re­ally?” He noted that the Euro­peans were here be­fore their African slaves. And doubt­less co­hab­ited with the na­tives. They re­named our coun­try, sold us their re­li­gions. Our idio­syn­cra­sies are closer re­lated to sev­eral cul­tures other than African.

The TV host alone knew for cer­tain whether he was teas­ing with in­tent or un­der­scor­ing an in­con­ve­nient mes­sage guar­an­teed to be con­tro­ver­sial. Ad­dress­ing his guest, he asked: “So what is all that ‘I is a African’ thing all about? We are as much French, Bri­tish, Arab, Por­tuguese as we are African. And let us re­mem­ber, cul­tures dif­fer, de­pend­ing on which part of Africa we’re re­fer­ring to. The Pigmy and the Yorubas couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent.”

Typ­i­cally, he threw some heavy spice into the al­ready hot soup. “Do we have any fam­i­lies in Saint Lu­cia with African names? Do our restau­rants serve African cui­sine? Do we suck blood from live cows?”

He said he an­tic­i­pated “re­tal­ia­tory blows from the cul­ture vul­tures” among his au­di­ence. So did I. But the show ended with­out a chal­lenge, at least, not in re­la­tion to the host’s views about our “imag­ined re­la­tion­ship” with Africa. Be­fore that, how­ever, Buf­falo seemed to blame our more ob­vi­ous short­com­ings on slav­ery. Which led Wayne to ask: “Are you say­ing our ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to work to­gether for a com­mon cause; our low self-es­teem and so on, are to be blamed on the en­slave­ment of our pre­de­ces­sors more than 400 years ago?”

If, like sev­eral black writ­ers, not in­clud­ing Wal­cott, Buf­falo was con­vinced the listed short­com­ings were in our DNA, he kept that to him­self. When I ap­proached him a week or so later to in­quire about his lack of de­fence of the Saint Lu­cianAfrican iden­tity, he said Wayne was only un­der­scor­ing the fact that Saint Lu­cians, de­spite our con­trary claims, know very lit­tle about our African an­ces­try. If I know my pub­lisher well, I think Buf­falo was on tar­get: with­out the op­por­tu­nity to de­bate con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects, Rick Wayne would starve to death. On the other hand, I agree with the writ­ers, with Derek Wal­cott es­pe­cially, who see our em­brac­ing of things African as “just an­other fad.” Many who wear their hair in locs are lit­tle more than Gucci Ras­tas; fakes. How much do we know about the ori­gins of Rasta­far­i­an­ism? Is the sub­ject taught in our schools? As for our roots, how do we prove more African blood tra­verses our veins than, say, Por­tuguese or East In­dian? How much do we know about the sev­eral African tribes and their pe­cu­liar cul­tures? But then, one might also ask what we know about black writ­ers such as Derek Wal­cott, James Bald­win, Garth St. Omer, Mc­Don­ald Dixon and Adrian Augier. In short, and I hate to ad­mit Mr. Wayne is cor­rect on this, the main trou­ble with Saint Lu­cians is we know not who we are—and don’t give a hoot!

I came across this line by Lionel Hurst—for­mer An­tigua and Bar­buda am­bas­sador to the UN: “Though in ap­pear­ance the trans­planted per­son looks ev­ery inch an African, these mod­ern per­sons have been reengi­neered to be­have more like the peo­ple who en­slaved them.” Then there is this by a for­mer min­is­ter in the Kenny An­thony ad­min­is­tra­tion, one of the few peo­ple Mr. Wayne con­sid­ers “a good friend with a mind that ac­tu­ally works”—Mr. Cal­ixte Ge­orge. It was his con­tri­bu­tion to the ear­lier cited dis­cus­sion, fea­tur­ing Buf­falo Od­lum: “It is no dif­fer­ent from an­i­mal breed­ing. The Euro­peans and the Africans have got to­gether and have pen­e­trated, in both phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal ways, to pro­duce a new race of per­sons—the West In­dian. We are com­pletely dif­fer­ent, we are a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal, we are a dif­fer­ent breed.

“There is a word in bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ence, and it is het­e­ro­cyst. In the cross­ing be­tween the Africans and the Euro­peans, you have had what is known as hy­brid vigour. Vigour of the new per­son that is bet­ter in char­ac­ter­is­tics than ei­ther the white man or the black man. So we are a dif­fer­ent type of per­son.”

Wayne’s re­ac­tion: “Is that your way of ac­knowl­edg­ing we have no idea who we are?” Ge­orge laughed, know­ingly. I went to sleep on the evening in ques­tion won­der­ing: “Why can’t we see our­selves for what we are, with our mixed bloods? We are West In­di­ans. Caribbean peo­ple.

We will re­turn to that!

---Clau­dia Elei­box

Buf­falo Od­lum on a few weeks ago, shar­ing his views on West In­dian cul­ture.

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