Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Schwarz-Bart's Ton Beau Capitaine: Understanding Haitian Migrant Workers in the Caribbean

Academic journal article Journal of Haitian Studies

Schwarz-Bart's Ton Beau Capitaine: Understanding Haitian Migrant Workers in the Caribbean

Article excerpt

Ton beau capitaine (1987) or, as it is translated, Tour handsome captain, is a play written by the Guadeloupian author and playwright, Simone Schwarz-Bart. To my knowledge, it is the only theatrical work to date originating from the French overseas departments that focuses on the plight of Haitian immigrant workers living abroad, for the most part illegally, in countries or territories that are generally hostile to their presence.1 Although Tour handsome captain was published in 1987, it is still relevant today. A current production in Guadeloupe would have as much interplay with present-day Guadeloupian society as a production would have had a quarter of a century ago. In fact, Tour handsome captain's relevance endures not only the passing of time but also the journey through space. It has been produced throughout the Caribbean, in France, and in the United States, thus demonstrating the play's continued importance and the persistent phenomenon of the Haitian immigrant in these various geographical areas.

Throughout the Caribbean, the Haitian immigrant is discounted as "blacker," "uncivilized," and "inferior" (Ferguson 6). Thus, the Dominican, Jamaican, Guadeloupian, or Martinican has been conditioned over time to take no notice of Haitian immigrants in society, even when their large presence should dictate remark. Yet theatre is capable of showing authences what they fail to notice in their everyday lives and world. Indeed, as Alan Read claims in Theatre and Everyday Life (1995), facing the other is a central function of theatre, since it situates one milieu in contact with another, permitting one culture to take note of another (23). More specifically, a theatrical production oí' Tour handsome captain places the authence face to fece with the disregarded Haitian migrant worker and thus theatre here operates as a bid to overturn the accepted societal structures. Read writes that "theatre is worthwhile because it is antagonistic to official views of reality" (1). Toward this end, "Theatre by its nature speaks to the other and often for the other" (36). It gives him a voice and humanizes him. Conversely, theatre at times acts like a mirror of the society in which it is produced. Therefore, Tour handsome captain has the capacity to reflect Jamaican society when it is produced in Jamaica, and to reflect 2012 when and if it is produced in 2012. Read writes, "Theatre and its thought are possible only within a polis, different cultures have different politics that give rise to different theatres with more or less freedom, and theatre's relevance and innovation are contingent upon such variable political perspectives" (3).

The theatre as mirror does distort reality a bit, make strange the everyday or "exoticize the domestic," so as to allow the authence to step outside of the everyday and to gain a fresh perspective on it (7). As Alan Read says, "Good theatre has an invaluable role to play in disarming the tyrannies of the everyday" (2). Furthermore, theatre is good when it enables us to know and to reflect on our world, toward living better lives. It is my intention, in this paper, to show that Tour handsome captain has the possibility of being "good theatre," since it presents current society to transform it in the authence's imagination, pushing the authence toward reflection, reconsideration and debate about reality. This is not simply my hope for Tour handsome captain, but perhaps its effects. To accomplish this I will, first, look at the phenomenon of Haitian immigrants in Guadeloupe and Martinique, with the understanding that thorough comprehension of society, by an authence member, is first needed for theatre to be good, and ultimately effective. Then, I will analyze the image of the Haitian migrant in Tour handsome captain.

Haitians have had a noticeable presence on both Guadeloupe and Martinique since the 1960s. In "Marginality and Subjectivity in the Haitian Diaspora," Paul Browdin notes:

With the exodus of the political enemies of the "president for life" François Duvalier along with other members of the middle and upper middle class. …

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