Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We are what we remember

One of the feature of the book that drew my attention was the use of some Samoan words by the author because like the author, I’m from an island (Guadeloupe) that has been colonized, where several cultures met, where the process of creolization took place. For a long time Creole or patwa as they call it in English speaking Caribbean islands has been despised contrary to the French (or language of the colonizer) that was praised. Creole was associated with illiterate people, with those who did not get a chance to go to school or with humble people. At school you had to speak French !

However, it has changed the past fifteen/ten years, a few years before in the literary world thanks to some West Indian authors such as Aimé Césaire,Maryse Condé…. As a matter of fact, Creole is now taught in schools, an exam that allows individuals to be Creole teachers has been created about five years ago. Personally I think that it is fantastic because this language is so colorful, powerful and wonderful. Creole conveys strong emotions that French don’t for me. For instance when I want to tell a story or a fact, I automatically use Creole. It is part of my West Indian and Guadeloupean identity. And paradoxically (and maybe not…) this desire to speak creole becomes stronger when I travel to France. When I hang out with my family or other West Indian friends, Creole is the language that I speak or when I meet a West Indian for the first time in Paris or whatever city in France we don’t speak French but Creole. I also remember last month, my family and I were at an airport in Tenessee and we were speaking both Creole and French. A lady asked us ‘what language is this ? It sounds a bit like French. Where are you from ?’ We told her that we are from Guadeloupe where people speak French and Creole. However when we speak French we have this Caribbean touch that makes sound otherwise then the French from France. She was really pleased to hear us speak. Speaking Creole is a way for me to assert my Guadeloupean identity in another place, to take a bit of my island with me including its various landscapes, its warmth, its joy… in other words everything that defines Guadeloupe.

In Albert Wendt’s Black Rainbow, identity is one of the major theme. What makes I, I ? One of the answers given by the author is an individual’s history, and I think that history is closely linked to language. The narrator says that ‘we are what we remember.’ If a government like the Tribunal erases a people’s past as he did to the Tangata Moni in exchange of ‘ comfort, peace and a crime-free world’, what remains of its identity ? Is this sacrifice really worth ? Can I really enjoy life, even a beautiful life without being aware of where I come from ? I think that we knew a similar situation in Guadeloupe before Creole was recognized at last. When they prevented children to speak Creole in classrooms it was as if this institution that is School denied a part of their history. As a matter of fact, Creole links each Guadeloupean to a collective and rich past that includes the slave trade, a cultural melting-pot, Africa, Europe, the arrival of the Indians in the 19th century…

One of the character that I particularly like is Aeto. He refused to be converted and ‘join the Tangata Moni who had become otherworlders’. He is depicted as a resistant, as someone who refuses to be like the rest, as one who cherishes his identity. I think it is really important because you can’t explore the world if you don’t know where you come from, if you don’t know your history. All those elements constitute references that allows you to appreciate more the world, the countries that you visit and other cultures.

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