Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Arozarena's Poetic Language and the Issue of Ebonics

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Arozarena's Poetic Language and the Issue of Ebonics

Article excerpt

Even before there was an Oakland School Board, even before there was an Oakland, even before the term "Ebonics" was invented, there existed something called Ebonics. Issues come and go in the media, which itself exists and functions entirely at the margin of the inner transcendence of those who "have known rivers" or who are "truly the elder sons of the world." In the midfifteenth century when the Portuguese-the first to liberate themselves from the Islamic African conquest of the Iberian Peninsula that began in 711-turning the tables, began to make confident and powerful incursions along the West African coast, there developed an ad hoc language of communication, a pidgin. This was the basis of a "protocreole," which itself became the source of all New World Creoles, and even of the Englishbased Creole that is currently a lingua franca all along the self-same West African coast. Mervyn C. Alleyne, a distinguished scholar from Trinidad and Tobago, in his Comparative Afro-American: An Historical-Comparative Study of English Based Afro-American Dialects of the New World, connects the various vernacular dialects of English that have been labeled "Ebonics" as well as all other New World Creoles and their corresponding dialects to this original mid-fifteenthcentury West Coast pidgin. Our essay will show that Marcelino Arozarena's poetic language flows directly from the same source. Whereas Ebonics is a peculiarly North American variant, his poetic language is an integral part of the peculiarly Caribbean linguistic expressions that have anchored the poetic voices of most of that region's major poets, from Aim* C6saire of Martinique to Derek Walcott of St. Lucia, including Nicolas Guillen himself as well as poets like Panama's Gerardo Maloney and the Barbadian, Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Furthermore, we will suggest that the roots of these Creoles can be traced all the way back to the beginnings of literature itself, in the Nile Valley. The famed Martinican thinker, Frantz Fanon, has developed the most productive theoretical approach to the question of colonialism. According to him, "the colonial world is an essentially polarized (Manichean) universe, one element being all good, the other all bad.

This formulation adequately addresses the state of things in the area of literature in the Spanish Caribbean" (Smart 1981, 23). What was true for the Spanish colonial world was also true for the rest of the colonized Caribbean-and, indeed for all of the Western Hemisphere under the sway of European colonial powers. In the realm of literature (as in all others) there were two worlds: that of the colonized masses-the Africans who had replaced the native peoples-and that of the European dominant minority. Although class and cultural allegiance were generally a function of race, there were always notable exceptions to this rule. From time to time there would arise black-skinned writers who functioned perfectly well within the circles of the dominant Europeanized minority, the Cubans Gabriel de la Concepcion Valdes and his contemporary, Juan Francisco Manzano, are good examples. For the most part, however, the black-skinned Caribbean population was fully engaged in the literary life at the level of oral literature. This literature, although reduced by the circumstance imposed by the barbarism of slavery and the slave trade to the merely oral level, had descended from and was intimately connected to the very earliest classical literary expression that flourished in the Nile Valley at the dawn of human history. "As the analysis strongly suggests, it is this [oral] literature precisely that will provide the material out of which a truly authentic Caribbean scribal literature can be created" (Smart 1981, 25).

Authentic Caribbean scribal literature evolves, then, it is argued, through a:

closing of the [Manichean] gap between the popular Afro-based elements and the minority Euro-based ones.... The use of the popular Creole languages in a serious fashion in scribal literature was a significant development in the creation of a genuine Caribbean written language. …

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