Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

There's Nothing Underhanded about Liberation: A Reevaluation of the Trickster Figure

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

There's Nothing Underhanded about Liberation: A Reevaluation of the Trickster Figure

Article excerpt

In his article "Chango, el gran putas as Liberation Literature," Ian Smart describes Manuel Zapata Olivella's novel Chango el gran putas as one based in African culture and principles, and furthermore, that the novel works towards gaining the validation of this culture and its principles. According to Smart, the novel's foundation in African culture and principles is particularly important because it is this foundation that greatly aids to it qualifying as `liberation literature.' He designates as `liberation literature' that which Franz Fanon in his book The Wretched of the Earth called 'a fighting literature,' a `revolutionary literature.'1 According to Smart, Chango:

speaks about liberation. More importantly, built on demonstrably African aesthetic principles, it affirms the existence of a peculiar and systematic African culture; it acts out the liberation about which it speaks. (15)

In his discussion of Chango as liberation literature Smart further states that the theme of liberation within the novel is discussed through various principal characters whose primary role is to free people of African descent from oppression. He believes that these characters, who play the role of liberators, are "tricksters" who use "trickery" to achieve their goals. According to Smart, the trickster, "for an oppressed people is essentially a liberator" (21). He further theorizes that the use of trickery is necessary for the empowerment of the oppressed and he believes that the manner in which Chango discusses the AfricanAmerican struggle for liberation supports this theory. Smart's previous definition of the trickster creates the following pertinent questions: How does Smart define "trickery"? Is trickery for Smart the practice of deception, of cheating, or does Smart simply view trickery as tactics? It is this ambiguity that makes Smart's categorization problematic.

Before entering further into a specific discussion of Smart's usage of the trickster figure, I believe a brief general discussion of the figure is useful. The amphibology of Smart's trickster is not surprising, because there seems to be a great deal of ambiguity around what exactly constitutes a trickster. Use of the category is first complicated by its varied definitions. Elizabeth Ammons and Robert Pelton both view the trickster as a figure that exists globally in literature. However, both agree that a trickster may differ greatly from culture to culture. Despite the numerous cultural variations of the trickster, in her book Tricksterism in Turn of the Century American Literature: A Multicultural Perspective Ammons provides the following general definition of tricksterism: "The essence of the tricksterism is change, contradiction, adaptation, surprise" (xii). This definition, however, is quite vague and leaves open the possibility of the categorization of exceptionally different characters with little or nothing in common under the category of trickster.

In his book, The Trickster in West Africa: A Study of Mythic Irony and Sacred Delight, Pelton discusses the origins of the trickster category and credits Daniel Brinton as being the first to utilize the term to designate this literary figure. According to Pelton:

Daniel Brinton seems to have been the first to give the name 'trickster' to the baffling figure of North American Indian mythology and folklore who was a gross deceiver, a crude prankster, a creator of the earth, a shaper of culture, and a fool caught in his own lies. In any event, by the end of the nineteenth century, the term had become standard.... (6-7)2

As we can see in the above definition, the trickster combines a number of characteristics into one figure including characteristics that many may view as contradictory. From this standpoint, the use of the trickster designation seems to be an attempt to categorize a figure that ruptures the binary divisions frequently found in Western thought. Pelton describes the trickster as problematic for Western thought stating:

The chief problem, as Mac Linscott Ricketts saw very clearly in his important survey of the attempts to understand the North American Indian trickster, was to penetrate the `kind of logic [that] combines all these disparate elements into one mythical personality. …

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