"English" as Guyana's medium of expression.
Some international writers like Chinua Achebe believe that English has brought unification to native peoples and the global readership, enabling expression and communication for post-colonial cultures: "[English] gave them a language with which to talk to one another. If it failed to give them a song, it at least gave them a tongue, for sighing" (430). For Achebe, the native writers who have chosen to use English are not "unpatriotic smart alecks" (430). English is advantageous because it provides a tool for post-colonial peoples to speak their native feelings to a world audience. Other writers, however, believe that using English betrays their native voice. According to Gina Wisker, "Caribbean writers are often seen as the inheritors of Caliban ... because internalizing language brought by Europeans warped the ways in which they thought and felt" (106).
Guyanese author Wilson Harris sides with the writers who favor English. Guyana won its independence from the United Kingdom in 1966, yet English has remained its dominant language. Creole and Amerindian dialects, along with a few other languages, are also recognized and widely used (United). With his first novel, The Palace of the Peacock--about a crew of Guyanese Creoles venturing into the jungle to recapture Guyanese Indian plantation workers--Harris chose to write in a modified English rather than a native language or mixed language like Creole. This decision put Harris alongside many other international writers who, through linguistic evolution and cultural integration, have created new "englishes." The influential study on post-colonial literature, The Empire Writes Back, distinguishes "between what is proposed as a standard code, English (the language of the erstwhile imperial centre), and the linguistic code, english, which has been transformed and subverted into several distinctive varieties throughout the world" (8). Even though Harris's book was published six years before the end of colonialism in Guyana, Harris's writing transforms his colonizers' language. In The Palace of the Peacock Wilson Harris creates an english that voices the personal identity of the Guyanese people and the national identity of Guyana itself.
A discussion of Harris's writings in The Empire Writes Back analyzes his view of language: "Language must be altered, its power to lock in fixed beliefs and attitudes must be exposed, and words and concepts 'freed' to associate in new ways" (151). Harris is a master of altering and forming the English language to create new associations and display new attitudes. He can write a sentence overtly describing one thing, yet his linguistic arrangements subtly convey additional meanings. He makes use of this skill to maintain his narrative while also providing the astute reader with a commentary on the personal identity of the Guyanese people. For example, Harris writes, "Donne prized Schomburgh as a bowman, the best in all the world his epitaph boasted and read" (25). Harris's English allows the reader to understand the narrative, that Donne values Schomburgh as a skilled bowman. A closer look at Harris's english, though, reveals more about Schomburgh, such as his multifaceted identity. One of the major effects of British colonial rule in Guyana was the introduction of European and African blood into the genealogies of the natives. Schomburgh, for instance, is of German and Arawak American Indian ancestry (Harris 39). Contemporary Guyanese people must contend with their multicultural, multiracial, multifaceted identities. Harris's sentence structure emphasizes that the Guyanese have a complicated, compounded existence. By writing that Schomburgh's epitaph both boasted and read, Harris reveals the multiplicity of the post-colonial Guyanese identity and worldview as influenced by the mixing of cultures and blood. People and things are perceived to have multiple roles and multiple identities, and this idea becomes a trademark characteristic of Harris's english through his use of pairs such as "boasted and read." The page following the comment on Schomburgh's epitaph is a typical example of the frequency of Harris's pairings; he describes a person or thing through a pair of identities eight times in one page. On the same page, there are two more instances of something being described with three identities.
The intense frequency of these occurrences displays the depth to which the multiplicity of identity has pervaded Guyana's culture. An even closer examination of Harris's linguistics reveals still more about the Guyanese view of identity. Harris writes of the mechanic, Jennings, who is "cursing and reproving his whirling engine and toy" (26, emphasis added). The double descriptions are understood as different perceptions of the same thing; the boat's motor can be seen as a dangerous whirling engine or as a simple toy. The encounter of different cultures necessarily involves the clashing of different perspectives on the same thing. Harris's pairings, however, are almost always connected with the conjunction and rather than or, emphasizing the fact that these different conceptions of the same thing are connected and inseparable. There are two different perceptions of the motor, but both perceptions apply to the motor at the same time. There is not a whirling engine and, separately, a toy; the engine and the toy are one and the same thing.
Through the subtle use of sentence structure--the decision to use one conjunction over another and to employ functionally unnecessary descriptive additions-Harris not only conveys the idea that Schomburgh is a prized bowman or that Jennings is frustrated with the motor. He creates an english that relates a narrative as well as subtly voices the Guyanese identity. The conjunctive pairing of words emphasizes the multiple, sometimes opposing aspects of a Guyanese person while also stressing that the multiple aspects are combined into a unified concept or identity. In the introduction to his book, Harris discusses his "new configurations" in reference to his style of writing, use of obscure paradoxes, and structure: "The stress on new configuration arises essentially from a concept that is integral to ... Palace of the Peacock, namely, 'a fiction that seeks to consume its own biases'" (10). Regarding his intentional use of conjunctive pairings, then, Harris could be stressing that the multiple identities, or biases, of the Guyanese people are now mixed into a new, whole Guyanese identity. This identity is forged out of the mixture of colonizer and colonized, a multicultural identity that requires a new language of syncretism with which to express itself. Harris has chosen to reconfigure and sync English into the Guyanese voice of english, fulfilling Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan's prophecy that the future of English "is necessarily multicultural and multiethnic.... [describing] a culture where in-betweenness replaces identity as the defining trope of cultural production" (1074). However, Harris's ever-present conjunction and makes the "in-betweenness" become the new identity rather than a simple replacement.
Rivkin and Ryan note that language is used to construct, understand, and maintain a culture's reality (55). Harris continues to use his english to construct and maintain the personal identity of the Guyanese people by toying with possessive pronouns. He often makes unusual combinations between plural possessive pronouns and singular objects, as in the following sentence: "It was the first breaking dawn of the light of our soul" (33, emphasis added). The concept of a collective soul is not new to the non-Western mindset, but Harris does not leave only the ethereal and insubstantial to the collective. Even usually personal objects such as body limbs are consigned to the collective. "Their" is frequently paired with nouns related to the body, such as head, eye, hand, side, and shoulder (84-85, 90, 92, 111). For context, each of these instances refers to the individual, physically separate members of the crew, but even their body parts become collective. Harris's obviously intentional use of plural possessive pronouns to imply collectivity is another subtle example of the use of linguistics to portray the voice and identity of a people. Unlike the typical Western belief that one person's soul and body belongs distinctly and individually to oneself, Harris's use of pronouns suggests that the individual Guyanese see themselves as part of a whole. Therefore, just as each individual Guyanese citizen is a composite of multiple aspects, the Guyanese national identity is a collective composite of its multiple individuals. Everything that appears unified is made up of multiple, sometimes opposing, aspects and everything that appears unified is itself only a part of another pluralized whole. There is no solid way to determine how much of this belief in pluralized unity and unified plurality is due to the colonial clash of cultures, but it is plausible to assume that Harris has used these subtle linguistic gestures purposefully.
Despite the clashing cultural and ideological influences with which the post-colonial Guyanese must cope, Harris encourages an idea of his characters' unified multiplicity through the linguistics of his narrative. Although they have mixed blood and mixed culture, they have come to terms with their identity of "in-betweenness." Despite all this mixing, however, Harris adds a stark element of separation into his book. With yet another look at Harris's linguistics and narrative structure, it is interesting to note that he clearly separates the common, Creole-influenced dialogue of the characters from the more proper language of the narrative itself. There is a clear difference in the language of the characters versus that of the narrator: "'Is a risk everyman tekking in this bush,' he champed his mouth a little, rasping and coughing out of his lungs the old scarred broken words of his life" (Harris 29). The broken, heavily accented English of the character and the proper, poetical English (or english) of Harris's narration contrast sharply. For the English-speaking reader, the characters' dialect is almost another language that must be translated, while the narration is comfortable and familiar to English-readers' ears: "'Them Buck folk scare of dead people bad-bad,' Cameron laughed, chewing a sweet blade of grass" (38). What does this clear separation imply about the identity of the Guyanese people as well as about Harris himself? In order to better understand Harris's distinction between his narrative and dialogue, the relationship between Creole and English must first be examined.
Edward Brathwaite writes that "[d]ialect is thought of as bad English. Dialect is 'inferior English.' Dialect is the language when you want to make fun of someone" (1155). (For clarification, dialect will hereafter be associated with Guyana's Creole and Creole-influenced English--the language of Harris's characters.) Brathwaite counters dialect with the term nation language, a term defined as a country's dominant/colonizer language (English) with a heavy influence from native/colonized languages (in this case, American Indian and African tongues). Unlike dialect, though, nation language retains a more structured lexicon of English, but its undercurrents--its rhythms, meanings, and tone--are taken from the native/ colonized languages. Nation language is a compilation of the native languages disguised by English. "English it may be in terms of its lexicon, but it is not English in terms of its syntax. And English it certainly is not in terms of its rhythm and timbre, its own sound explosion," Brathwaite explains (1154). He continues to insist that English must be transformed into a nation language in order to express the local environment, for "[t]he hurricane does not roar in pentameter" (1154). In other words, nation language is the same concept as The Empire Writes Back's "english"--English recreated to be the voice for post-colonial nations. Harris's narration, then, is his attempt at creating an english, or nation language, for Guyana.
Why, though, does Harris make such a strong distinction between Creole/Creole-influenced English and english in his book? A large percentage of Guyanese speak like the characters in The Palace of the Peacock, so why not also write the narration in the same manner? The book would then fairly accurately portray the "voice" of Guyana. As Brathwaite would assert, dialect is basically incorrect English. It is not the voice of a post-colonial nation but a failed attempt to conform to the voice of another nation, Great Britain. The Creole dialects are often direct results of colonialism, coming into being through necessity as a blurred border between two languages and cultures. These dialects are globally considered to be marginal, deviant, unintelligible, inferior tongues (Reinecke 535). Harris may allow his characters to speak such a dialect in order to realistically portray the current Guyanese voice, but the fact that he narrates in a different manner suggests that he has something else in mind for Guyana's future use of English.
In contrast to dialect, english is an art, a conscious attempt to study, recognize, and accurately represent the heart and voice of a nation. In his introduction to the book, Harris writes that Guyana is magical, musical, and natural (7). If Creole dialects are just poor attempts at a language that portrays another nation, then these dialects cannot voice the magical, musical, natural aspects of Guyana. Nation languages, or englishes, on the other hand, are actually connected with native structures such as music and oral storytelling (Brathwaite 1156). In order to be able to create an english which could convey the identity of Guyana and the Guyanese people, Harris had to study both his nation and the English language. He "traveled in the heartland of Guyana" on survey expeditions and, in other English-speaking nations such as the United States and Canada, he studied other English-speakers' research on Guyana (9). Through these efforts, Harris creates and writes in his interpretation of an english that voices Guyana and her people. Perhaps Harris makes such a large distinction between the dialogue's dialect and the language of the narrative in order to show Guyana an alternative to the Creole-influenced tongue, to show that there is a better, truer voice for the Guyanese people. In addition, using english rather than a dialect makes Harris's work more available to the global readership, giving him a larger base with which to voice Guyana's identity. As African english writer Chinua Achebe puts it, "The African [or Guyanese] writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost" (433).
As Harris uses his Guyanese english to linguistically portray the nature of the individual Guyanese identity, he also attempts to display the nature of Guyana itself. At the story's opening, for example, it appears that Harris has adapted an oral storytelling into written narration in accordance with the idea of nation language being founded on oral narration and other native culture traits. There is a first-person speaker, first referred to as "me," who tells the story in fragmented sentences as if speaking, yet Harris ensures that the grammar is still understandable to the reader. "Someone was watching us from the trees and bushes that clustered the side of the road. Watching me as I bent down and looked at the man whose open eyes stared at the sky through his long hanging hair" (9). The latter sentence lacks a subject and is therefore a fragment, yet because of the prior sentence, the reader understands that the watcher is "someone." If these sentences were part of an oral narration, leaving out the subject of the latter sentence would be more natural, and Harris incorporates such oral techniques into his written narrative.
In addition, Harris imbues his sentences with musical rhythms, as an oral storyteller might attempt to do. When the phrase "whose open eyes stared at the sky through his long hanging hair" is read aloud, the musicality stands out. Regarded as a musical phrase, these words could be broken up into four measures, with the first two measures in 4/4 time and the last two in 3/4 time. In linguistic terms, the first two "measures" consist of four syllables each and the last two are grouped into three syllables each. Note also the alliteration and assonance that make this phrase more musically smooth and poetical: the "oo" of whose and through; the hiss of whose, eyes, stared, sky; the puff of whose, through, his, hanging, hair; the rhyme of eyes and sky; and so on. In just one sentence, Harris has displayed the oral narration and musicality of Guyana, but he has adapted them to fit into the english of his literature. While the above phrase fits in with the oral storytelling of the rest of the sentence, it is also a bit too planned and poetical to be anything but written narration. Here Harris displays the value of creating an english to voice the musicality of Guyana, a musicality which the bumbling, broken nature of the characters' dialect cannot quite attain.
Harris describes Guyana as magical and natural as well as musical, and the nature of his writing also reflects these traits. Note the imagery of the nature scene in the following sentence in addition to the recurrence of the conjunctive identities. "A brittle moss and carpet appeared underfoot, a dry pond and stream whose course and reflection and image had been stamped for ever like the breathless outline of a dreaming skeleton in the earth" (29, emphasis added). Ironically, while writing about a breathless skeleton, Harris breathes life into his vivid, unique pictures of Guyana. His linguistics comments on the nation's nature and identity through the choice of wording and the connectivity of its clauses. Guyana's landscape is indeed magical as the moss and carpet "appears" underfoot and the forest's mystical personification of a lifeless, breathless skeleton manages to dream "in the earth." Guyana's identity, like the identity of her people, is multiple and not easily categorized, just as the growth underfoot is both "a brittle moss" and "a carpet."
It is also interesting to note Harris's skill with words and mastery of the English language that is grouped with his insight into the nature of Guyana. His phrase "breathless outline" is unique and full of depth. It refers both to the metaphoric skeleton and the literal indentation of the dried streambed. Both the skeleton and the streambed lack life--whether the skeleton's blood or the streambed's water--and are thus lifeless, breathless. But "breathless" could also mean that it inspires breathlessness in the beholder, that the magical beauty of the view brings a deep reaction of awe. Even a phrase as small as this one linguistically upholds the idea that Guyana and its people have plural identities. Had Harris instead written of a "lifeless outline," the double meaning would be lost. Masterful wordings such as this description are sprinkled all over Harris's work, further proving his grasp of his nation language.
The Empire Writes Back lauds, "The resulting versatility of english has often been regarded as an inherent quality of English itself' (40). In The Palace of the Peacock, the creative and insightful Wilson Harris proves that English is indeed versatile enough to be formed into the english of Guyana. He forms a language with which to show the world the voice of Guyana and her people. Through his linguistics he upholds the unified, multiple, and collective identity of the people and nation as well as the magical, musical, natural traits of the country. Wilson Harris's work encourages the idea that post-colonial nations can take advantage of the global language of English to form an english of their own in order to share their voice with the world.
Born six years after Wilson Harris published Palace of the Peacock, Oonya Kempadoo grew up with a Guyanese identity which differed in many ways from the Guyana Wilson Harris wrote of in the 1960s. Kempadoo's birth year coincided with the year of Guyana's independence from the United Kingdom, and when 1970 arrived three years later, the little country officially became a republic. By the time Kempadoo published Tide Running in 2001, Guyana was no longer the colonial country Harris had lived in and written of; it had been a post-colonial nation for thirty-five years. Not only had the identity of Guyana as a nation changed; the identity of the Guyanese people was also morphing to match Guyana's postcolonial identity. Whereas Harris had concentrated on the multifaceted unity of the people within Guyana, a condition necessitated by colonial slaving and immigration, the post-colonial Guyanese were freed from such colonial confinements to their borders.
Post-colonial voices from around the world began calling for a more global outlook rather than a solely inward-looking national or imperial identity. Pertaining to Guyana's area of the world, post-colonial authors such as Sam Selvon--the Trinidadian author responsible for the first Caribbean novel written in dialect rather than standard English--began speaking of a Caribbean consciousness as a replacement for the isolated identities of the Caribbean islands, which had remained divided among the previous boundaries of the different colonial powers rather than retaining a regional identity. Selvon states, "I would like to see writers writing about movement from one island to another. I don't really want a novel about Trinidad" (Jussawalla 101, 109, 115). Even though Guyana is not an actual Caribbean island, its similar colonial history, physical proximity, culture, and mixture of ethnicities groups it with the West Indies, as Guyanese authors such as Roy Heath postulate: "First of all, I want to be known for what I am, a Guyanese writer. And in a larger way, a West Indian writer or Caribbean writer" (118-119). While the multifaceted yet unified Guyanese identity is still important, contemporary postcolonial writers are heeding the call for a more regional Caribbean voice.
Unlike Wilson Harris, then, Oonya Kempadoo reflects this wider post-colonial identity even in her own upbringing. Kempadoo was actually born in England to Guyanese parents, but she was raised in Guyana from four years old onward. Later in life, she moved to four different Caribbean islands, and although her first novel (Buxton Spice) focuses on Guyana, her following book, Tide Running, concentrates on the mentalities of and relationship between two characters living on one of Kempadoo's other home islands--Tobago. The author once declared, "I grew up in a village called Golden Grove on the brown-water coast of Guyana, but I feel Caribbean" (Leusmann 108). Kempadoo's life and writings embrace this post-colonial evolution of the Guyanese identity into a Caribbean consciousness, taking on the idea that part of breaking colonial identities means breaking colonial boundaries and becoming aware of regional contexts (Jussawalla 120).
Oonya Kempadoo's writing certainly breaks colonial boundaries. Some postcolonial scholars have written that "Guyana and Trinidad are ... the parts of the West Indies with the richest literature," largely because of the rich subject matter provided by the "complex interaction of cultures manifested there" (Jussawalla 118). Taking the best of both nations, Kempadoo is a Guyanese author who has lived on each of the two islands which constitute the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and by setting Tide Running in Tobago, she both discards and exploits the post-colonial legacy. She discards colonial boundaries by becoming a regional, Caribbean author, but she uses post-colonial influences to her advantage by making use of the English language to express the "complex interaction of cultures"-the multifaceted identity--left behind by colonialism. Like Wilson Harris, she conveys her exploration of the identity of the people in English (or "english"), but instead of conveying the identity of Guyanese people, Kempadoo expresses the identity of Caribbean people.
Wilson Harris focuses on the "complex interaction of cultures" that resulted in a multifaceted yet unified identity of the people. Oonya Kempadoo also writes of this multifaceted identity. She explicitly describes one of the book's two main families as of mixed blood, the mother being a mixed Caribbean and the father an Englishman, with their son "mix with the both of them" (Kempadoo 19). Less obviously, Kempadoo makes use of some of Wilson Harris's artful tactics with language; she hints at multifaceted identities through multiple and conjunctive descriptions. Tide Running's opening paragraph contains four conjunctive descriptives about the sea (which will be seen later is a reflection of the people): "rolling and swelling," "snorting and slurping," "snuffling and bubbling," and "hissing and crackling" (3). Kempadoo sometimes writes in dialect, but she also creates an "english" out of English, an english vocabulary with which she can relate the multifaceted identities of the Caribbean land and people. Note her creative word usage in this multiple description of the multifaceted sea, "twinkling and shimmying, tippling" (36). More literally descriptive of people, Kempadoo writes of "us, streaking, skirting, clinging" (58). Kempadoo mimics Harris in her linguistic conveyance of the Caribbean peoples' multifaceted identities; in a surprising departure from her predecessor, however, Kempadoo does not write of multifaceted unity.
Forty years of post-colonialism and the emerging regional consciousness naturally altered the identity of the Caribbean and Guyanese people from that of Harris's portrayal. Globalization and modernization with all their focus on individualism and materialism, Kempadoo suggests, has changed multifaceted yet unified identities to multifaceted and separated identities. Despite sharing the same mixture of blood, modern materialism separates even the citizens of one republic. As Tide Running's main narrator, Cliff, observes, "Is true, when them Trinis come over to Tobago, they look like they come from Foreign. Even when they ain' wearing all they Ray Ban and beach wrap and sporting Carib Beer towel, something does make them look Foreign ... even the black-black Trinis" (17). Cliff maintains this separation from others through materialism, too, gaining protection and mystery by hiding behind his sunglasses, which "have a mirror on the front so nobody can see me eyes" (23). Note also the lack of Harris's mystical, unified sharing of identity through plural possessives describing singular body parts. Cliff's eyes are "me eyes" and no one else's.
SC is the best friend of the other narrator, Bella, and among the book's characters, SC most encapsulates this modernization-enforced separation. Modernization aggravated by materialism and globalized media abruptly destroys any semblance of unity among the Trinidadian SC and her fellow citizens in Tobago:
This is Black Entertainment Princess come true. Visions of African Coca-Cola bottle figures revolved in their [onlookers from Tobago] eyeballs ... Till she cut the Toni Braxton video playing in their heads with one ice-water look.... They could smell Trinidad on her after that. Not American but "Foreign" still. Air-conditioned skin, city-style clothes ... all set her apart from local beauties. (132)
SC's conformity to globalized, materialistic standards of beauty immediately sets her apart from the other islanders, even those who share her multifaceted Caribbean identity. Rather than, as in Harris's work, shared nationality or ethnicity encouraging unity among the people, Kempadoo portrays a people whose shared nationality and ethnicity is pushed aside in favor of a globalized, modernized, materialistic standard. As SC's comments show, these factors are the new standard for unity. When Cliff does not fit her standards, she aggressively separates herself from him, recognizing no shared or unified identity. After Bella "described how he dresses, the style of hundreds of fellas in Trinidad too," SC replies, "Hunh. I don' trust dem, yuh know. I ain' lying and I know it sound prejudice eh, but if I walking at night and I see a fella like that with he hat turn back to front and a trackpants and a gold chain.... my blood'll run cold" (133). Kempadoo plainly reveals that the new Caribbean identity, multifaceted though it may be, subscribes to a separation imposed by materialistic standards. Citizens and similar ethnicities the people may share, but "[c]lothes, cars, and subtle shades of skin separate the classes there" (Kempadoo 134).
As Kempadoo states in an interview, such materialism heavily influences Cliff (Leusmann 112) and is probably the largest contributing factor to his separation of self from all those around him. Kempadoo does not need any linguistic tricks to portray this separation, either, for she has Cliff bluntly narrate, "People say we [Cliff and his brother, Ossi] could'a been twins. I just smile when they say that 'cause I know that the things in Ossi mind is not in mine" (20). The closest Cliff comes to the collective identity of Harris's characters is when Cliff discards materialism for a short while in order to enjoy cycling: "It don't matter what you wearing when you riding just for the feeling. We just be eyes, ears, and legs, and bare blazing backs, it don't matter" (22). These sentences do not strongly distinguish an individual identity, but Kempadoo still does not fully give in to Harris's mixing of plural possessive pronouns and singular objects. Casting off materialism allows for a more shared experience and identity, yet the separated, individualistic identity of the new Caribbean consciousness is not completely overcome. Exactly whose eyes, ears, legs, and backs are whose may be slightly indistinguishable, but there are still multiple, individual body parts--not a collective eye or ear.
Just as Harris writes about the identity of the Guyanese people in addition to the identity of the Guyanese nation, Kempadoo also spends much time alluding to traits of the national identity. It is important to remember that Kempadoo focuses on the regional Caribbean identity; the Guyanese national identity is consequently part of this Caribbean identity. This evolution of national identity from Guyanese to Caribbean still retains many of the traits Harris portrays in The Palace of the Peacock, but Kempadoo's book also shows some of the changes that have taken place during the forty-year-long identity evolution.
First of all, Tide Running continues the portrayal of native culture through two traits Harris focuses on--oral storytelling and dialect. Just like Harris, Kempadoo tells her story through first person narration; the characters' relating their experience firsthand is an apt adaptation of traditional oral storytelling into a modern, written narration. The stark difference between the two authors' narration is their position on the role of dialect. Harris strictly separates the dialect from the narration, confining this native trait to dialogue between characters. An excerpt from Kempadoo's narration, though, plainly reveals her different take on the place of native dialect in the Caribbean identity. Tide Running opens with Cliff's first person perspective: "The sea rolling and swelling up itself down by them rocks on Plymuth Point" (3). Improper pronoun usage, misspellings, fragmentation and all, Kempadoo blatantly embraces the Caribbean dialect; she proudly claims this english and uses it throughout her work to express the Caribbean identity.
In reply to an interviewer's query as to why she chose to write in this linguistic style, Kempadoo stated, "Because without it, to me the language becomes boring. Dialect, new words and original expression is a joy to listen to, and if it is comprehensible in literature it makes it so much richer." She added that writing in this creative yet authentic english is how she can accurately portray the identity of "a contemporary young man" from the Caribbean (Leusmann 112). Harris may have created his own english expression of the Guyanese identity by adhering more closely to standard English, but Kempadoo obviously believes that the modern Caribbean identity can only be truly revealed through the english of the Caribbean, an english much more closely related to dialect than separated from it. In fact, some scholars claim that Caribbean english--also termed as nation language--is "an essentially oral tradition that bubbles up from underneath" and is a more creative form of expression than standard English (McCrum 313). This issue of dialect in literature is still widely debated among global authors and scholars, but many people praise English precisely for its ability to be transformed into such dialects, such englishes. Literary critic Luigi Bonaffini insists that dialect "offers a greater potential for individual creativity. The strength of dialect, in fact, lies in its essential 'otherness,' in its position of eccentricity with respect to the national language." Dialect, he states, is "the linguistic testimony of a cultural heritage" (10-11); it is an unavoidably important part of the native culture and, thus, of the national or regional identity.
Kempadoo recognizes the fundamental importance of dialect and does not shirk from making full use of it despite other authors' hesitations; this embracing and utilization of dialect in english departs from Harris's avoidance of dialect. She obviously shares Sam Selvon's belief that "it is important to write in Creolese, and it can succeed" (Jussawalla 127). Rather than abandoning her narration to unchecked english, however, Kempadoo also heeds Selvon's philosophy that accurate dialect should be balanced by keeping reader comprehension in mind.
Consequently, while she does narrate in english, Kempadoo makes sure to keep her writing understandable to readers accustomed to standard English; at times, though, she follows Harris's model of allowing dialogue to be more authentic. Note the difference between the english of Cliff's narration and the more obscure dialect of his friend Stompy's dialogue:
Stompy at the end of the jetty fixing and loading, he big tough belly shakin' when he dump the gas container down in the boat. "Yuh reach late.... Pass dat bucket, leh we go." Stompy look up. "Pass de bucket! Wha' happen to you, yuh still sleeping? Stan' up holding yuh crotch!" I pass the bucket and suck the last bread out'a me teeth. (7)
Kempadoo's Caribbean english dominates this entire passage, but she allows it to come in a purer form during the dialogue. For example, before and after Stompy's tirade, Kempadoo correctly spells "the" in the narration, but she switches to the phonetic spelling "de" when Stompy speaks. Her narration is a mild dialect compared to Stompy's dialogue, where the author reverts to constant phonetic spelling ("Yuh" for "you" and "Wha'" for "what," to offer a few examples) in order to more accurately communicate the Caribbean english.
The linguistics of Kempadoo's english reveals how the Caribbean people have altered English to better reflect the rhythms of their region. The dialect should not be dismissed as substandard grammar or local eccentricity. As will be discussed later, rhythm and acoustic smoothness is important to the Caribbean identity, so the dialect Kempadoo communicates in is a result of this search for accurate expression, for real rhythm in language. While most Caribbean people can quickly switch from English to english depending on the situation, Kempadoo writes in dialect-like english because it expresses the Caribbean experience in a way that standard English simply cannot communicate well (McCrum 317). One way this dialect consistently changes English to make it more acceptable to the Caribbean lifestyle and tongue's tendency towards smoothness is by a linguistic process called epenthesis, which is when a sound is inserted into a word in order to make the word flow more smoothly, to make it easier to pronounce (O'Grady 101). For example, instead of "tiptoeing," Kempadoo's characters go "tiptoesing" or "tippling" instead of "tipping" (13, 9). This english also frequently uses metathesis to smooth pronounciation; sounds are reordered for easier enunciation, as in "akse" instead of "ask" and "flims" for "films" (O'Grady 51, Kempadoo 17-18). A final instance of this english's smoothing of English is deletion, the process whereby certain sounds are removed (O'Grady 49). What appears to be wrong spelling is actually purposeful deletion. The deletion of r in perspiration results in the smoother sound of "pusspiration" (Kempadoo 40).
On a more apparent level, writing in dialect allows Kempadoo to easily share Caribbean english vocabulary with the reader. Thus the reader can gather from context that "yampy" refers to the "sand" one must remove from the eyes after a night's sleep, "noseholes" are nostrils, and "totee" is a term for male genitalia (7). What is interesting is that not all of these words are borrowed from other languages into English; some of these english vocabulary words created new words or concepts from the English lexicon--"nosehole," for instance, is completely derived from English words and is a more practical, literal term than "nostril." This ability of english to take from, contribute to, and enrich English, and for English to do the same from englishes is one major factor as to why the English language has the richest vocabulary on earth (McCrum 19). For this reason, among others, writers like Kempadoo and Harris choose to write in English--or englishes--since they can twist this language and change its inner structures "to suit their new expressions" (Jussawalla 215).
It is also important to iterate that, just as the Caribbean nation makes use of several different englishes in addition to English, Kempadoo also displays her characters' awareness of their dialect in relation to other dialects. Dialect is an important part of personal and regional identity in Tide Running. In imitation of an American gangster rap video, one of the Tobagans "even try yanking, talking like a Yankee--'How you-all go-eng, bro," but he is quickly laughed down by his friends for the fakeness (28). Different dialects connote different identities, and the Caribbeans do not appreciate posers. Bella and her husband both fret over their occasional difficulty in communicating to their own friend and fellow countryman because of Cliff's heavy accent (85), furthering the idea in Tide Running that multifaceted, shared ethnicities aside, there is now more separation in the Caribbean than in the Guyana of Harris's time. Dialect is currently a huge factor in determining personal and regional identity; accordingly, Cliff's sister takes pride when her toddler picks up phrases or accents from Oprah on TV (176-177). Sounding like Oprah means identifying with the wealth, education, popularity, and beauty associated with America. Dialect--one's english--is an unavoidable indicator of personal and national identity, which is why it is imperative for Kempadoo to write in the dialect of the Caribbean. Dialect is one of the biggest communicators of native culture and identity.
Forty years may have caused an evolution of identity from Harris's Guyana to Kempadoo's Caribbean, but one aspect remains relatively intact--the musical, magical, natural qualities of the "nation." Harris's writing in Palace reflects the musical rhythms of Guyanese life and tradition, and Kempadoo focuses on musical rhythm in both her content and her linguistics. Music factors into the Caribbean identity both from traditional factors, as in Harris's work, and in modern movements, such as the effects of globalization and regionalization.
Kempadoo attempts to relay the heavy influence of American media and music on Cliff (Leusmann 112), especially the influence of big city gangster rap. In fact, much of Cliff's narration actually sounds like rap lyrics: "We fix-up them and ride. Raise-up the handlebars and ride. Long-out the seat and ride" (22). The repetition, rhyming, and rhythm are all reminiscent of rap, and even the content of "fixing up a ride" reminds one of rap music. Cliff attempts to apply the influence of American rappers and their cars to himself and his bicycle--all while expressing himself through lyrical, rap-like narration. His content bears the influence of American media while also expressing his Caribbean surroundings, as in the seagulls linked with "rap-rolling": "Once you keep moving, cruising, backpedaling, hands swinging--we rolling. We on a roll. Like them gulls. Wheel and turn. Far and high as them black and white seabirds. Sailing, circle 'round. Nuthing don't stop us till we done" (23). The repetitive rhymes of the first sentence, the brief torrent of following phrases, and the confident boasting is nothing short of written rap.
This identification with rap is chased after by many of Kempadoo's characters, and she candidly claims the influence of music when she describes (through Cliff's narration) the wanna-be gangster Doberman, who "look[s] like the real thing. Could'a be from one'a them gangsta-rap video." Another such character is the man mentioned only as "Tomo's boss," who rides around with "Boom-bass speakers pounding 'round the corner" (28). Kempadoo masterfully expresses this influence of rap in her linguistics as well as her content. Note the pounding alliteration of b and the deep throbbing of the ou's in her description of Tomo's boss. Kempadoo artfully uses her english to express the Caribbean cultural identification with specific musical rhythms.
While much of the music in Tide Running originates in the dialect and cultural references within the writing, which are the colonized region's contribution to english, Kempadoo does not ignore the colonizer's more traditional approach to musical, rhythmic writing. She frequently adds techniques familiar to standard English--techniques such as assonance and alliteration--and fuses these techniques to the music of Caribbean english to create a truly post-colonial, synthesized expression of the Caribbean nation's identity through her musical writing. For example, notice the alliteration paired with the brief, rap-lyrical phrases: "Bonitos start Siting at a rate. One time, Stompy start hauling in. I can see flashing's out'a the white water in the wake. Silver flashing fighting hard" (10). The italicized consonants denote the alliteration, while the two italicized a's emphasize ending rhymes that could be associated with rap lyrics.
Almost every post-colonial author will at some point emphasize the importance of music, of rhythm in writing. Trinidadian writer Sam Selvon states that musicality can particularly be found in dialect, and Ngugi wa Thiong'o stresses that a writer must be in among the speakers of the language he or she is writing in, because the writer "needs to be in touch with the feel of the language, the rhythm, the music and all that" (Jussawalla 104, 33). Kempadoo's emphasis on the musicality of Caribbean english as an expression of Caribbean identity is certainly not unfounded, then. What is particularly interesting in her book is how the music of her language almost magically reflects the musicality of the Caribbean landscape. Wilson Harris also writes about the importance of the musical, magical, natural aspects of the Guyanese landscape and identity, and Kempadoo follows suit with an even more synthesized take on this concept. Tide Running begins with an almost musical beat, the rhythm of the sea, and it ends when the sea-beat stops--when the song ends. The music of language and the music of nature is truly the life of the story and of the Caribbean identity, and Kempadoo portrays this life in her english.
Music is connected to the Caribbean identity. Music is connected to nature. Nature is connected to the Caribbean identity. Wilson Harris spends much time in Palace focusing on the natural landscape of Guyana, and Oonya Kempadoo does the same in Tide Running. The book literally begins and ends with the sea. The sea is perhaps the most defining aspect of the natural Caribbean identity, for it surrounds, sustains, and isolates the region, not to mention gives this area its particular appeal to the outside world, as shown by the hordes of tourists (Kempadoo 8, 16). Whereas in Palace of the Peacock the natural connection is to the Guyana-specific jungle and rivers, Tide Running's connection is to the more regional ocean, with which Guyana shares a coastline.
The land- and ocean-scape--the natural world--is the prominent background to everything going on in Tide Running. The landscape is not just relegated to the unnoticed backdrop; it is the focus, affecting the identity of the people and region. In one interview, Kempadoo straightforwardly claims that the sea, ocean, water, and land "are powerful mediums through which one can express unsaid emotions--in the case of Tide Running they say a lot for the main character" (Leusmann 112). There is a consistent alignment of the Caribbean people with the natural world, as in "[t]he lady white dress on the jetty change to pink, and a small cloud high up, pink too" (37). The sunset colors everything into equality, bringing people and nature together indistinguishably. Kempadoo's english furthers this identification by naming "the lady white dress" almost as one entity--the lady and white dress being inseparable--rather than the standard English's more literal "the lady in the white dress." Thus, as the sun affects and alters the white dress, the sun is affecting and altering the identity of the lady herself. Nature again alters identity when "[t]he mister watching the sea. It reflectioning on he glasses and he eyes color with the sea too" (Kempadoo 37, 47). The dialect's lack of specification allows the reader much room for interpretation. The mister's eyes could be the same color as the sea, the eyes and sea could be coloring together in an equal effort, or the sea could be coloring the eyes. However translated, the sea almost physically influences the identity of the people nearby. Beautifully combining the effects of dialect and of the surrounding natural world, Kempadoo's unique english reflects the unique Caribbean identity.
The fact that nature is deeply connected with the Guyanese-Caribbean identity is apparently not enough for Harris and Kempadoo, for they both add one more dimension to this natural identity--a magical, dreamy quality associated with the natural world and expressed through language. This quality is evident in Harris's depictions of the jungle, as in the "dreaming skeleton in the earth" (Harris 29). Likewise, Kempadoo includes this mystical aspect mostly in regard to the ocean. Hints of this dreamy aspect of Caribbean identity begin as early as the first chapter, wherein Cliff mentions the spirits of the island and "the sea spirit" awakened by the rain (4). Kempadoo's english proceeds to lead the reader down this magical line of thinking while not forcing such an interpretation, which only further reflects the mystical aspects of Caribbean identity. For instance, she describes one moment on the sea as "The glitterwater all 'round me. Twinkling and shimmying, tippling me in Stompy boat" (36). Kempadoo's language could certainly be read literally, with the reader thinking of the sunlight on the water and the motion of the waves; however, the use of words such as glitterwater, twinkling, shimmying, and tippling--the first of which is most likely Kempadoo's creation, while the last is a Caribbean english word--also connotes magical surrealism. In this manner Kempadoo's english is like a fairy guide, leading the reader not to one certain place but down at least two different yet not mutually exclusive paths. Kempadoo's phrase about the ocean can be read literally, mystically, or both. The mystical aspects of the Caribbean are enforced through the content of Tide Running which pertains to nature as well as in the actual language of the writing.
Further evidence of this artful focus on dreamy mysticism is seen in the actual content of Bella's underwater encounter. Bella narrates, "A dream ran through me. A shivery rush of a witness, a rarity. Magic intimate water contact, a dolphin gracing you for a moment" (72). Dreamy encounters and magical qualities are found in nature, specifically in connection with the ocean. This natural mysticism is taken on through Kempadoo's language and meshed into the identities of the people. Connections with nature and with others illuminate and strengthen this mystical quality of the people. Upon observing her husband and Cliff sailing together, Bella thinks, "An embarrassing-simple pleasure, being beat-up by the sea. Raised a pride in me to see such a thing. Something shared by people so different.... One of these things making ordinary people beautiful and beauty exquisite. Singing me joyous" (90, emphasis added). The two men making a connection with each other and with the sea results in Bella's rather mystical outburst, noted in italics, enlightening her and enabling her to see the exquisiteness of beauty. Her concluding sentence is literally nonsensical and not quite syntactical, yet the reader can get a dreamy, vague sense of comprehension as to her meaning. Thus is this mystical quality conveyed from nature to people to language--a conveyance captured in both Harris and Kempadoo's writings.
Wilson Harris wrote Palace of the Peacock in colonial Guyana, and he uses his colonizers' language to create an english capable of communicating the identity of Guyana and her people. Through his multiple descriptions and incessant use of the conjunctive "and," as well as his purposefully odd possessive pronouns, Harris portrays a people with multifaceted yet unified identities. Furthermore, Harris's english reveals the native culture, as in traces of oral storytelling and his confined use of dialect. He also conveys the magical, musical, natural qualities of Guyana through his writing's musical rhythm and deep imagery.
Forty years later, Kempadoo confronted a post-colonial Guyana with a transformed yet still recognizable identity. She decided that Guyana's identity lies more in line with the regional Caribbean, and Tide Running's english portrays this evolved identity. Through her conjunctive "and" and acknowledgement of mixed ethnicities, Kempadoo nods to the Caribbean peoples' multifaceted identities, but her english denotes a movement away from Harris's multifaceted yet unified people. Post-colonialism aggravated by globalization and modernization has instead brought about a separation, an individualization in the Caribbean people. Kempadoo also reflects this new Caribbean regional and individual identity by more freely embracing the native culture's dialect in her english narration. Despite all these changes, though, Kempadoo's Caribbean retains some of the fundamental aspects found in the identity of Harris's Guyana--the magical, musical, natural aspects of the region. Kempadoo's musical rhythms and magical nature tie the identity of the land and the people together, and this identity is enforced by her english language. Even as the identity of Guyana and her people transitioned from colonialism to post-colonialism, Guyanese authors have continually been able to express this identity by creating an appropriate english.
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|Publication:||Journal of Caribbean Literatures|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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