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Memories of Bocas Lit Fest 2018
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Derek Walcott The NGC Bocas Literary Festival in April was just that, a canvas of the Caribbean greeting itself, our islands saying to ourselves, to writers, filmmakers, performance artists, to children (who began participating when they were ten since 2009 when Marina Salandy
Brown founded the festival and who deserves a statue in Woodford Square for her contribution to Caribbean literature) and are now 18, saying the time is here, this is us, let us love the stranger within ourselves, given over to colonizers when they uprooted us from Africa, India, enslaving us, taking our language, history, our very sense of selves.
Now that we have been independent for over half a century, with self-rule, armies, oil, universities, we surely can’t hold the ‘whites’ responsible for the brutality of their forefathers.
The whites, like the Syrians, Chinese, Nigerians, Venezuelans are assimilated minorities now. We Caribbeans, must be careful not to be former victims who turn abusers. We can’t waste precious time we need to create ourselves, to bully, blame, abuse, pillory and pull down minorities to ‘feel good’ about ourselves. Hate stops at hate. The battle was between forefathers. Not us.
We, broken strands of all continents do not see ourselves in ancient fixed temples and landscapes of the homes of our ancestors.
We are following the band of fluid Tantan and Saga boy, fully ourselves, both holding our mother countries close in whatever way we chose, but more interested in the present, marvelling at who we are and can be when we are melded to one another.
To our past of enslavement and indentureship, we say, take that. It’s now.
We ting. We language. We have taken the language of our masters and turned into our own ‘dialect’, and winning international awards for it.
We know too, that if art which is the truth because it’s raw, is created from peeling off layers of our skin, has a gatekeeper (it’s not politics or social studies or history), will die if it is policed, if you are or a recent immigrant, white, pink, green, lived in Alaska, didn’t go to university or can’t read music.
Then art vanishes because it resides in the creative imagination and cannot be policed.
Over Bocas this year with a canvas of over a hundred events - readings, workshops, films, literary conversations, current affairs, performance art on everything from what makes island writing unique, to meeting the Naipauls, to the buzz of the full house of kindred spirits in Little Black Box at the launch of Maria Nunes’ photography on ‘Carnival dreamers and makers,’ as Blue Devils breathed fire by the mango tree and Moko Jumbies wandered amongst us. There was Mariel Brown’s documentary on writer Wayne Brown, leaving her audience sobbing with its raw beauty; There was Barbara Jenkins launching her novel ‘De Rightest place’, there were conversations with Eleanor Catton, the youngest ever winner of the Man Booker Prize; a theatrical adaptation of CLR James’ classic account of the Haitian Revolution from the Black Jacobins. While the intellect stretches, open and skinned, nerve ends may explode.
That’s what happened to some writers when coinciding with Bocas in an essay in an online publication, when Poet A (black) essentially called out writer B (white) querying her authenticity as a Caribbean writer, decrying her privilege due to her race. The fallout from this, the essay being taken down and put up again, led to people identifying more with experiences of race, and post-colonial shades of pain.
My only issue with it is that because it was a personal salvo, its discourse curdled, degenerated into racism, hate speech.
I don’t doubt that the lashing out from both sides came from deep hurt, related to belonging, or not belonging, a deep historical outrage over cultural appropriation, and in the mix, a friendship that was betrayed.
Marina Salandy-Brown believes salvos between writers, one group claiming authenticity over another, can damage the fledgling Caribbean literary community as “we are so established that we can turn against one another, or “slash and burn.”
In the end when writers attack one another personally, literature loses.
We are set back with atavistic hurt. In ,the meantime, the Poui floated around Bocas and for all of us loving these islands, it, like the festival fell like a longed for benediction.
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