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Date: Thu, 8 Aug 1996 08:50:53 -0700 (PDT)
From: Bob Corbett <>
Subject: Caribbean culture 1
Message-Id: <>

Thanks to Greg Chamberlain for passing on this article he found.
Date: 08 Aug 96 09:30:28 EDT
From: Greg Chamberlain <100074.2675@CompuServe.COM>

Experts examine global impact of Caribbean culture

By Joy Elliott, Reuter, 8 August 1996

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Aug 8 (Reuter) - The small nations of the Caribbean, which once had a disproportionate impact on the world's economy, now wield a cultural influence that has spread to remote corners of the world.

More than 400 Caribbean writers, artists, critics and cultural experts gathered recently at the campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) here to discuss the reasons why their islands in the sun export culture even as they import tourists.

They asked whether the impact was due to the region's racial mix and what might be called hybrid cultural vigour, or to a push for self-affirmation by those formerly relegated to the despised bottom of the social pyramid. But most of all, they asked how this culture, especially the music of calypso, reggae, Afro-Cuban and their derivatives, created by people who long considered themselves marginalized, spread so far and enjoyed such popularity.

Harry Belafonte, an American entertainer of Jamaican parentage, told participants how he re-arranged calypsos to "seduce" new listeners. Others told how reggae superstar Bob Marley of Jamaica changed the musical universe, along with Sparrow, symbolically the permanent "Calypso King" of Trinidad, and the musical geniuses of Haiti and Cuba.

In addition to this musical influence, Nobel prizes for literature have gone to poets St. Jean Perse of Guadeloupe (1960) and Derek Walcott of St. Lucia (1992) from a firmament of highly regarded Caribbean writers.

Internationally admired painters Wifredo Lam of Cuba and Leroy Clarke of Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti's "naive" artists took inspiration from a complex cosmology born from West African religions and Christianity. And Trinidad and Tobago's carnival was the basis for the breathtaking costumed parades designed by Peter Minshall of Guyana and Trinidad for the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics.

In looking at possible explanations, the experts seemed to lean toward giving credit to the people at the social bottom for their efforts to assert themselves, a struggle given new impetus by independence movements in the colonies in the 1950s and 1960s. In this vein, conference participants lauded UWI Deputy Chancellor Rex Nettleford for the belief imbuing his work that African emancipation from slavery was not just an event that took place in the 1830s in much of the Caribbean (earlier in Haiti) but is a process that continues.

The plenaries and panels were organised as a tribute to UWI graduate, former Rhodes scholar and Caribbean Renaissance man Nettleford. He is co-founder, artistic director and a former lead dancer of the Jamaican National Dance Theatre, which has been hailed internationally for its works based on Jamaica's African-based rituals.

Illustrating the racial confluence and, perhaps, confusion at the global crossroads in the Caribbean, George Lamming, the Barbadian novelist and social critic, quoted from an English translation of a 150-year-old poem by a mixed-race Spanish-speaking priest: "Yesterday I was born a Spaniard/ In the afternoon I became French/ At night they said that I Ethiopian be/ I am English, they say today/ I do not know what will become of me."

Lamming, whose encyclopaedic and much-applauded address opened the conference, pointed out that the mark of social exclusion in the islands was then -- and sometimes is now -- black skin from Ethiopia, a name often used in the 19th Century for the whole African continent. But when he used the word "black," he said, he was not using it in a biological sense or for "racial applause."

Citing the example of South African President Nelson Mandela's 27-year imprisonment and release, he said: "When I say 'black' it is the name of a profound and unique historical experience borne by a particular group of men and women whose presence in the world was destined to transform the eyes and ears of the world and whose ultimate liberation will be the decisive contribution to the liberation of mankind."

Similarly, using a term coined by late Martinican psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, Nettleford once wrote, "The 'wretched of the earth' emerge as creative, constructive contributors to human history."