Academic journal article MELUS

Rituals of Rememory: Afro-Caribbean Religions in Myal and It Begins with Tears

Academic journal article MELUS

Rituals of Rememory: Afro-Caribbean Religions in Myal and It Begins with Tears

Article excerpt

If we succumb to a blackhearted stasis--to enclosures of fear--we may destroy ourselves; on the other hand, if we begin to immerse ourselves in a new capacity or treaty of sensibility between alien cultures--we will bring into play a new variable imagination or renascence of sensibility steeped in caveats of the necessary diversity and necessary unity of man. In short we won't oversimplify or crudify similarities or differences, but will seek, as it were, however difficult, even obscure, the path, to bring all perspectives available to us into an art of the imagination, an architecture of the imagination.

Wilson Harris

History, Fable, and Myth in the Caribbean and Guianas

Recent theoretical works on trauma and memory place special emphasis on the limits of representation and the ambivalent relations between fictional and historical narratives. Theodor Adorno's remark, "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric," still rings true. How to write about extreme experiences that elude immediate understanding and threaten to destroy the narrating subject remains a question for literary artists and critics. Afro-Caribbean writers, in particular, need to confront multiple layers of' traumatic memories and, among them, the "original trauma" of the Middle Passage in which their diasporic identity is rooted. Many works of Afro-Caribbean writers reveal an amazing amount of psychological resilience and physical endurance. The emergence of such a body of powerful literature out of what Antonio Benitez-Rojo calls "the black hole of the plantation" (56) is a source of constant wonder to readers and critics. Wilson Harris summarized a strategy practiced by these creative artists in his 1970 lectures on Caribbean history, fable, and myth: instead of surrendering to historical stasis, they opt for a creative synthesis of available perspectives, thereby opening a gateway to a possible rebirth of imagination and sensibility. The emergence of Caribbean literature is, therefore, "a `creole' act"--the process of creolization "in which cultures originally foreign to the Caribbean adjust and relate; lose and offer some of their own, pick up some of the patterns of the `host'; so that all groups move ... towards a kind of eventual homogeneity" (Brathwaite 45).

Looking into the liminal space carved out by the history of transatlantic slave trade, Afro-Caribbean writers delved into their creolized heritage in search of possible alternatives for racial healing and located one of their most important psychic resources in Afro-Caribbean spirituality, which Toni Morrison calls the "discredited knowledge" of peoples of African descent. Through their strong emphasis on the healing aspect of folk rituals and the importance of rememory, (1) Afro-Caribbean writers re-define folk religions and an Afro-Caribbean "ceremonial spirituality," which is a creolized synthesis of multiple legacies of the Americas. This article presents an investigation of the possibility of spiritual and psychological healing through the practice of what I call "rituals of rememory" by way of a close reading of the deployment of Afro-Caribbean folk rituals in texts by two Afro-Jamaican women writers: Erna Brodber's Myal (1988) and Opal Palmer Adisa's It Begins with Tears (1997). (2)

Both Erna Brodber and Opal Palmer Adisa were born in Jamaica and educated in the United States. Adisa stayed in the US to further the cause of literary multiculturalism in the academic world, while Brodber returned to the island nation to teach sociology and to pursue her research on the African diaspora. Although their geographical locations are now different, they share common aesthetic and political positions. They are both determined to bring together the cultures of the "shipmates," Brodber's term for peoples of African descent in the Americas. Brodber states her political agenda in writing Myal: "Myal is my tentative exploration of the links between the way of life forged by the people of two points to the black diaspora--the Afro-Americans and the Afro-Jamaicans" because historically "black initiative is weakened by the misunderstanding between Caribbean and U. …

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