An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone Writing: Guadeloupe and Martinique

By Sam Haigh | Go to book overview

4
Women, History and the Gods:
Reflections on Mayotte Capéa and
Marie Chauvet
Joan Dayan

In 1930s Paris, when Aimé Césaire, Léon Damas and Léopold Senghor crafted their image for voice regained in the word ‘négritude’, Josephine Baker, fêted in Paris as ‘Black Venus’, appeared in Marc Allégret's film Zou Zou. Zou Zou makes her musical debut wearing nothing but feathers. She swings in a gilded cage and sings ‘Who will give me back my Haiti?’ Such poignant lyricism in a black body locked in a golden frame was welcomed by the Western consumer. Trapped in the ‘beautiful cage’ that she laments is ‘nothing but a jail’, Zou Zou sings to the white audience who can assure her success.

Whether Senghor's ‘femme noire’, Césaire's ‘pauvre folle’ or Allégret's icon of pathos, woman bears the burden of being representative. In his 1948 Orphée noir (Black Orpheus), Sartre defined negritude as the descent of the black man into the hell of his soul to retrieve his Eurydice. More a love song between two apparent opponents the élite black writer and his cultivated white reader than a means of change, the required plunge into the depths remained a male endeavour the woman mere passage to his song. It was he, l'homme de culture, who knew how to gain strength from a particular representation of woman. Negritude not only encased the black in the castle of his skin, but its call to transcendence, with the iconic black woman in tow, condemned women in the Caribbean to a crushing loss of presence.

Placed outside the call to recollection and retrieval, the muse of the writer in search of his voice, she remained unrecognized, unvoiced, part of someone else's history, someone else's celebration. Her status replayed in an uncanny way the experience of the colonized, fighting to speak. Though central to the black man's construction of his identity, she was appropriated and metaphorized out of existence. Even now, in our heady

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