Archive for August 29th, 2008

29
Aug
08

Eurocentrism comes up for air in the Caribbean: “Keep Patois at Bay”?

It’s not a big deal, really, to have some crust play into inferiority complexes and suck up to the powerful. But it remains amusing to say the least, and one wonders what could inspire someone to renew or perpetuate a tradition of self-contempt and desire to mimic that afflicted at least some Caribbean persons — Exhibit A:

Keep patois at bay
published: Friday | August 29, 2008

The Editor, Sir:

Let us keep patois out of our schools. It should remain what it is, a street language.

Patois is a word of of French origin which means to handle clumsily. It is often applied to any language that is spoken badly.

So patois as a second language? Who needs one? Let us try to master the one we now speak, and make it mandatory that our children learn the language of our trading partners so that they can communicate on an international basis.

Leave the English language as it is. We have mutilated it enough.

Under ‘colonialism’

We have been so eager to crawl out from under ‘colonialism’ now we want to abandon the English language, the most widely spoken language across the globe.

Ask the millions of Jamaicans living abroad now what patois has done for them. I rest my case.

I am, etc.,

GERALD A. HEDMANN

P.O. Box 20

Morant Bay, st Thomas

The first bit of amusement comes from the author’s decision to place colonialism within scare quotes, suspending the word, as if grudgingly paying dues to history, reluctant to call Jamaica’s history as a slave colony colonialism. Now if that is what “learning proper English” did to you Mr. Hedmann, I recommend you take up residence in that same street you so malign.

The second bit of foolishness comes from casting a creole language as poor speech. Given that English is a creole language, I suggest that Mr. Hedmann get back to me once he has learned to write in Latin or French, and any of the other sources of the invented English language. A recent invention at that — the way Mr. Hedmann writes is recognizable as English only for the past two hundred years, at best.

The third bit of nonsense comes from the subservient genuflecting to whiteness: given the global prominence of China in international trade, Mr. Hedmann simply has the wrong language in mind. Now he has to add Mandarin to Latin, before he can get back to me. And this is the man who only wants to know one language.

The fourth bit of questionable material has to do with the idea of the number of people who speak English. Mandarin is spoken by the largest number of people. English is second. He will argue that English is spread all over the world. I will remind him of his Chinese neighbours, and the fact that the Chinese diaspora is the largest in the world.

The fifth joke has to do with his singular notion, “the English language.” Now which one would that be? The Canadian, American, Australian ones? The many varieties spoken within the UK itself?

Lastly, ask the millions of Jamaica living abroad what patois has done for them? Yes, I suppose that racism premised on skin colour suddenly decided to take a back seat to accents.

Keep patois in the schools, but get Mr. Hedmann back into school too.

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29
Aug
08

“Sweet” Nationalism: Suspending Critical Disbelief for a Moment

I know many Trinidadians have become quite sour about current circumstances and prospects, a degree of hostile resignation set in a long time ago. And yet, nonetheless, in select moments you get these bursts of nationalistic enthusiasm, even love, as comes bursting forth from this video with the music of Carl Jacobs, the song being “Sugar Island.”

My favourite part: the Hindi words sung flanged.

29
Aug
08

(re)New(ed) Blog: Review of the Indigenous Caribbean Center

First, let me get straight to the announcement — please visit:

THE REVIEW OF THE INDIGENOUS CARIBBEAN CENTER

This is a “renewed” blog in terms of site redesign, renaming, and building on its precursor, The CAC Review, which first started in early 2003 on the kacike.org domain.(1)

It is new in some ways as well: over the past few months I have been rethinking, sometimes agonizing, over the slow and diminishing level of academic collaboration that in the end came to mark the 10 year existence of the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink. One of the main problems was that I was the centre of all web updates and content management, and began to suffer “broker overload” which suffered from additional aggravating problems external to the network. Within the past year, email started to grow to oppressive heights, and in fact there are many messages from as long as 10 months ago that I have yet to answer, and probably never will. Many contributing authors would submit files loaded with problematic code, and then begin to grow increasingly anxious, even upset, when for many months I had not posted their works, and soon the demands became pointed. In the meantime, when communicating with collaborators, I rarely got responses, except from the usual reliable two or three persons. The rest would remain totally silent, as if being listed as an “editor” was all that mattered. In other respects, I felt that I was being pinned down and locked within a narrow niche, that I could not express myself freely, and that I would remain permanently “on call” thanks to my past (and remaining) research on the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean.

Most of all, however, I also grew increasingly uneasy and unhappy with the centrality of the non-indigenous academic, in an indigenous field. With so many indigenous Caribbean persons actively online, making excellent use of the web, and showing great sophistication and advanced knowledge of web design and coding, there was no real reason why I had to continue to be the broker/overlord through which information passed (and got stuck in a bottleneck).

Simple solutions to simple problems led to some very exciting results. For example, to not have to manually update a HTML directory of researchers (that link will expire soon) each time one wanted a new photo, or to correct an email link, or to alter a single word (or delete a duplicate “the”) I placed the responsibility for updates back with the researchers. That was the first step in creating the Indigenous Caribbean Network, which has now grown to large and dynamic networking proportions, far beyond a mere directory of researchers, and instead becoming a lively site for rich cultural, political, historical, and political discussion, not to mention audio-visual collaboration. I actually try to limit my presence there for fear of being sucked in for too long.

NING offered pages that members could update themselves, and that was the only reason I first chose NING, because I had no other means (i.e., coding knowledge or software) available for those listed on that old “directory of researchers” to update their own entries. I asked them to sign in to NING, roughly a third did, and the rest are “lost.” What really propelled the network was the onrush of indigenous Caribbean persons, and archaeologists, two of the main groups in the network. The ICN has become a living expression of what I would call “open anthropology.”

All of the above then really got the ball rolling. I realized that one of the problems was the limitations imposed by static HTML pages, administered by me, on domains I owned, using private accounts that I paid for. That worked to ensure that sites such as the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink, and even KACIKE: The Journal of Caribbean Amerindian History and Anthropology, would remain firmly in my weakening hands, regardless of best intentions. At the same time I began to fool around with content management sites, and soon realized that I could use WORDPRESS to create such a site, and use GOOGLE PAGES to archive KACIKE, so that a new group of contributors could directly access those sites on their own, post as they wished, and nobody owned it.

Hence, slowly but surely, the Caribbean Amerindian Centrelink is mutating into the Indigenous Caribbean Center, while KACIKE is going defunct, at least until new editors wish to take control of it (and when they do, lack of HTML knowledge won’t be an excuse, and the site is free).

The renaming issue stems from exchanges that are too long to summarize here adequately. From 1998 doubts began to be aired about use of the term “Amerindian” (popular in Trinidad, and among a diminishing group in Guyana) that misled me to believe that the term was appropriate. For many instead, it is either too racial, too exclusive of miscegenated groups such as the Garifuna, or sounds too much like “American Indian.” “Aboriginal” sounded derived from Australia to many, despite the fact that it is also in official and common use in Canada. Indigenous was both wide and ambiguous, and now that all of the old efforts are being undone and unwoven, it seemed like an appropriate time to install the renaming.

And why “center” instead of “centre”? Because I am fed up with American readers writing to point out that I “misspelled center.” And what happened to “centrelink”? That is the funniest one: I came up with the name while in Trinidad at the same that the Australian government renamed its welfare agency Centrelink. For years we were getting massive numbers of visitors from Australia, and at one point, even centrelink staff email (how many BBQs were derailed by my silence in neglecting to point out that the intended recipient would never get their email?) When I once boasted that Australia was one of our top three sources of traffic, an Australian Centrelink administrator wrote to tell me that it was because our site sounded like their welfare agency, and had a more memorable URL (centrelink.org). My response was that it was sad to see how many Australians were in dire need of welfare.

End of story for now, I hope you feast your eyes on:

THE REVIEW OF THE INDIGENOUS CARIBBEAN CENTER

•••

Notes

1. As a blog set up by an anthropologist, it predated all of today’s better known anthropology blogs. This is probably one of the reasons why I cannot understand some of the prima donna attitudes I have encountered on some of the other blogs, very few instances to be fair, and possibly on only one of those blogs. In a field with so little room for anything to appear even remotely innovative, I guess it should not be a big surprise that some will rush to claim mastery of the newest toy. What The CAC Review was not, however, was an insular anthropology blog locked into discoursing with itself. It began and continues as collaborative work between academic and non-academic specialists.




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