Caribbean Women's Literature
and the Mother of History
Something inside is laid wide like a wound, some open passage that has cleft the brain, some deep, amnesiac blow. We left somewhere a life we never found, customs and gods that are not born again, some crib, some grille of light clanged shut on us in bondage, and withheld us from that world below us and beyond, and in its swaddling cerements we're still bound.
Derek Walcott, “Laventille”
In a recurrent scene of education in Caribbean fiction, children of the islands solemnly offer obeisance to a European nation they have never seen, reciting the absurd formulae of genealogy by which colonial authority teaches them to know themselves. African-Caribbean children of the French-speaking islands learn “to respect the flag of France our mother, to revere her greatness and majesty and the glory that went back to the beginning of time, when we were still monkeys with their tails cut off” (Schwarz-Bart 52), while in British Jamaica, a “class of multicolored boys” chants: “mulatto, offspring of African and white; sambo, offspring of African and mulatto; quadroon, offspring of mulatto and white; mestee, offspring of quadroon and white; mestefeena, offspring of mestee and white. ” These boys are among the “fortunate, ” as their teacher informs them, for “in the Spanish colonies there were 128 categories to be memorized” (Cliff, No Telephone 56).
The perverse family narratives imparted in a European colonial education were crystallized in the deceptively benign conceit of the “mother country. ” As presiding eminence in the colonial schools, this “Great Mother” was a stern nurturer indeed. 1 “Not an eyelid must bat not a finger must twitch when we