Re-Writing the History of the Afro-Cuban Woman: Nancy Morejon's "Mujer Negra"

Article excerpt

The process of. destabilization of the generic boundaries seen traditionally as separating history (fact) from literature (fiction), is one sign of the movement away from the tendency to think in binary opposites which has been a hallmark of the Western intellectual tradition. In his 1961 essay, "The Historian and His Facts," E. H. Carr dismisses as a "preposterous fallacy" the notion of history as a set of facts independent of the interpretation of the historian.1 "The facts of history", he observes, "never come to us 'pure', since they do not and cannot exist in a pure form: they are always refracted through the mind of the recorder."2

This view of history as interpretation corresponds to recent theories of literature as discourse, that is, as informed and underlain by ideology rather than as 'neutral' reproduction. In addition, literary discourse is now widely accepted as serving not merely to reflect, but rather to constitute, reality. In his analysis of power, Roger Fowler characterizes language itself as a "reality-creating social practice."3 Literary critic Catherine Belsey also insists on this theory in her account of the post-Saussurean structuralist argument that "the 'obvious' and the 'natural' are not given but produced in a specific society by the ways in which that society talks and thinks about itself and its experience."4

It is upon this premise that Sandra Drake bases her view of the relationship between Cribbean history and Caribbean literature:

Sometimes literature does not reconstruct tradition; it constructs it. Sometimes literature does not do this in the light shed upon reality by history, but rather the literature itself becomes the writing of the history of a people, the creation of a tradition and a people's contemporary definition of itself. Such a formulation seems appropriate in discussing a region like the Caribbean.5

In the tradition of Spanish Caribbean poetry, the black woman has often been defined and constituted through ahistoricist discourses-especially those which stress her ethnoracial or sexual character. Some poets, seeking to rehabilitate the black image, have had recourse to mythification of the black woman, with the marginalization or the distortion of history being a frequent result.

This paper focusses on a poem about the AfroCaribbean woman which departs from the discourses of aesthetic, sexual or mythic portraiture, and which defines her in the context of history. I shall highlight the methods by which the black female persona subverts these established discourses and creates a counterdiscourse to re-define herself and her New World experience. The ideological underpinnings of this counter-discourse will also be disclosed in the process.

Nancy Morejon is the leading black female poet writing in contemporary Cuba. "Mujer negra", first published in 1975, is one of her most frequently anthologized poems: IMAGE FORMULA6IMAGE FORMULA7

Three moments in Cuba's history provide the discursive terrain of the poem: the transplantation of the Negro from Africa and plantation slavery, the independence struggle and nationalist movement, and the Castro Revolution with the attendant changes in the social formation. History functions as both a structuring device and a theme in the poem, which not only locates the black woman in the context of Cuban history but may also be read as a conscious meditation on that history. The ideological parameters within which this vision of the Afro-Cuban woman unfolds are clearly shaped by the poet's own historical vantage point.

Since the 1940's historians have been engaged in a re-writing of Caribbean history which repudiates the hitherto dominant, "official", Eurocentric versions of that history.7 Such an undertaking has served to encourage positive attitudes to their past in Caribbean people of African descent. …