Trinidad Yoruba: From Mother Tongue to Memory

Trinidad Yoruba: From Mother Tongue to Memory

Trinidad Yoruba: From Mother Tongue to Memory

Trinidad Yoruba: From Mother Tongue to Memory

Synopsis

A deeply informed Afrocentric view of language and cultural retention under slavery. Maureen Warner-Lewis offers a comprehensive description of the West African language of Yoruba as it has been used on the island of Trinidad in the southern Caribbean. The study breaks new ground in addressing the experience of Africans in one locale of the Africa Diaspora and examines the nature of their social and linguistic heritage as it was successively retained, modified, and discarded in a European-dominated island community.

Excerpt

In the anglophone Caribbean, historiography has moved to embrace documentation and analysis of the lives and social conditions of the poor and underprivileged only within the last two decades. Before then, history concerned itself largely with official policies and therefore continued to promulgate the ideologies of the ruling classes. Among these ideologies are racist attitudes toward African peoples and their cultural forms. And since, within these conceptual parameters, Africans had no culture and no history, the issue of their contribution to Caribbean society could not arise. Similarly, it was inconceivable that African languages could exist here since Africans did not speak languages: they spoke mumbo- jumbo. Enlightened opinion in recent years credits them with speaking "dialects." In popular parlance, this means "corrupt speech forms."

On the other hand, by an inconsistency of logic, the official historical record has asserted that slaves sharing the same language (their capacity for speech communication now admitted) were systematically distributed to different plantations. This statement must have some basis of truth relative to official intention, but it has been repeated ad nauseam with little questioning of its unrealizeability in fact. The preponderance of certain ethnic groups on any one cargo, the irregularity of slave-ship arrivals in the face of pressing labor needs, planters' preferences for certain ethnic types, the social intercourse between slaves of neighboring plantations, the employment of slaves on public projects related to construction, maintenance, and commerce, particularly in urban centers--all these real-life factors militated against the isolation of African slaves on the basis of their linguistic affiliation.

Another misconception successfully implanted is that slavery was a monolithic system initiated some four centuries ago. This . . .

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