Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Place and Orality in Arnoldo Palacio's Short Story, "Christmas for a Black Child"

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Place and Orality in Arnoldo Palacio's Short Story, "Christmas for a Black Child"

Article excerpt

This short story "Navidad para el nino negro," by the African Colombian author, Arnoldo Palacios,l initially appeared in the Christmas 1973 issue of the Bogota newspaper, El Tiempo. It is a distillation, the result of a long gestation; it is an example of memory and imagination evoking place and occasion. Some ten years passed between its inception and its publication. Circumstances intervened. "Christmas for a Black Child" is a story born of contrasts. It is a story about a man and a woman and their family and a holiday. It is a story of gift-giving that focuses on an event, a tradition, a celebration of great significance which is emblematic of the many threads the author gathers together in its telling. It is a story of family, strength in adversity, celebration, faith, and hope. Conceived while Palacios was living abroad, the form of the story first came to him one Christmas eve when, not having anywhere to spend the night, he explored Lausanne, Switzerland-its streets and shop windows festively adorned with lights and displaying an abundance of holiday temptations. The cold, the snow and the richness of it all would have provoked thoughts about home and ways of summoning up the tropical heat, the brilliant light, the powerfully flowing rivers, the deep greens along the shores, the strong black people, resiliant and creative, struggling and impro-vising to get through their hard times.

Palacios' literary production exemplifies a deeply rooted consciousness of the statement made by Chester Higgins, Jr., an African American photographer whose self-declared mission is to document the African diaspora. Higgins maintains, "We are not Africans because we are born in Africa, but because Africa is born in us." Although aware of the diaspora in general, Palacios is primarily concerned with articulating its particular manifestation in Colombia. As always with Palacios' writings-Las estrellas son negras (Bogota, 1949); La selva y la lluvia (Moscow, 1958); Buscando mi madrededios (n.d.), published in French translation as Les Mamelles du Choco, (1989)-he writes of the Choco. This is the region of Colombia located to the south of Panama, hugging the Pacific ocean as it is southward bound and extending east to encompass the western ranges of the Andes. This is the region traversed by many rivers and their numerous tributaries which, historically, has had the country's greatest number of inhabitants of African descent. During slavery times, it was home to maroon communities. It long has been known for the rich deposits of precious metals that figuratively pave the riverbeds in some places. Indeed, it was the development and exploitation of the gold that enabled many of the blacks engaged in mining to more easily accumulate the money necessary to purchase their own freedom prior to abolition, which in Colombia definitively occurred in 1854. However, because the wars of independence in Latin America fostered the abolitionist movement, enslaved blacks and mulattoes had more possibilities for emancipation and took advantage of them. Nonetheless, because abolition in Colombia, as elsewhere on the continent, was a gradual process, and its implementation not infrequently obstructed or ignored, freed people of color were still liable to be seized by civil authorities, accused of being runaway slaves or, in the post slavery period, and charged with crimes of theft and vagrancy. Consequently, many freed individuals sought out the more isolated areas of the region in which to establish their own communities.

It is the lives and spirit of the descendents of these communities that inform Palacios' writing, the continuity of experience and knowledge that he seeks to preserve by delineating the physical and the emotional contours of land and people in his prose. To this end, he establishes in his story, "Navidad para el nino negro," a very intense oral presence with a specific function. Orality, which is essential to his rendering of voice, tone, and perception, is evident in his rendering of the regional speech patterns in the story's terse and pithy dialog and also in the narrative's connective passages. …

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