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The Caribbean Area: Culture


       Music--Reggae, Calypso & Hip-Hop / Musical Examples /

       Voodon & Santeria, Rastafarianism / Obeah, "Obeah Nights" and Christophine


  Music--Reggae, Calypso & Hip-Hop
   (Left) Bamboo musical instruments (《拉丁美洲》182).
(Above) Turning oil drums into musical instruments, which sounds like zylophone (《拉丁美洲》187).
Calypso (加力騷):

e.g. The Mighty Sparrow 
a type of folk music that comes from the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean.  Calypso songs are in the 2/4 or 4/4 time, with a strong beat similar to the rhythm of African songs.  . . . Some think [the word Calypso] comes from the African word Kai-so, meaning bravo, used to praise a good singer. 
The words of a calypso are more important than than the music.  Cleverness in choosing words and in making up rhymes on the spot marks the champion calypso singer.   The lyrics may express a personal phylosophy or comment on local eents and gossip.  Calypso songs with nonsense verses are called bracket.  Songs about serious subjects are known as ballode.
Musical Instruments: Almost any instrument may be used for calypso music.  Early instruments included bamboo pieces and rattles.  Many calypso singers today use drums, flutes, guitars, saxophones, and rattles for accompaniment. 

Calypso originated in the songs of African slaves who worked in the plantation fields of Trinidad.  They were forbidden to talk to each other, and used calypso to communicate feelings and information.  To fool their masters, they sang in a French-creole dialect called patois.  Annual calypso singing competitions were held at carnival time.  AFter slavery was abolished in the 1830's, these competitions became more popular and attracted many visitors to Trinidad. 

World Book Vol 3: 61-62
 "Calypso, which satirizes current events and political personalities, has always reflected the mood and social conscience of the people. But in recent years, especially as the music has gained international attention, critics say calypso has become nothing more than what's known here as "jump up'' and  "boom-boom'' music. Boom-boom refers to the  local slang for the part of the body upon which one sits." (Racy Calypso Appeals to Wider Audience   By SHELLEY EMLING  1997 Cox News Service ) 


Reggae: e.g. Bob Marley  

External Links: 

Bob Marley
(left) Boot, p. 120
(above)Boot, p. 162 .
Rap: e.g. WyClef Jeans and the Fugees 



Musical Examples

Caribbean Area:
I. Traditional folk music

  • Abeng: The abeng us an instrument made from the horn of a cow.  It is played by blowing through a side hole located near the tip; the thumb is simultaneously used to change pitch by covering another hole at the very tip.  This instrument is derived from a West African design. . .
    The abeng is used primarily as a signalling device.  During the days when the Maroons were at war with the British this instrument served as a vital means of communication.  . .  .By posting a network of abeng-men as sentries around their settlements, the rebels virtually ruled out the possibility of surprise attack.  [Today Abeng is used for various communication purposes, not just warning.]
    Abeng: This recording was made during the Christmas holiday, the only time of the year that the abeng can be freely blown.  The player is here ushering in the holiday.
  • Nyabingi: A pan-African-Jamaican drumming style.  Through its influence on Jamaican popular music, from ska to reggae, it has had an international impact.
    The performance: These young Maroon men are using the traditional accompanying Maroon drums to play the Nyabingi style.  . . . In this spontaneious performance, the singers move through a medley of well-known Rastafarian chants.
  • Revival  Shows the influence of the Afro-Protestant Revival churches.
    The recording: "Fight for War": This song, which admonishes listeners to fight for their cause, resonates with both Revivalist themes and the militant Maroon past.
    (The three songs above are from Maroon Music from the Earliest Free Black Communities of Jamaica)
  II. Calypso:
 III. Reggae:
IV. Rap


Voodon & Santeria, Rastafarianism

"Santeria ... flourishes in the area, and has roots in Africa.  It's a nature religion based on stones, seashells, water and herbs.  Yoruba slaves brought their deities, called Orishas, with them, and in the New World identified the orishas with Catholic saints in order to preserve the tradition.  It can "look" like some branch of Catholicism, with saints' statues (for instance, a statue of St. Peter stood for Oggun, the warrior god, St. Theresa stood for Oya, the goddess of the winds and  cemeteries).  This kept the whites off their backs.  (This is going through a mild vogue in New York City.  Many Caribbean immigrants have quietly practiced, and there have been Botanicas for years--supply stores--but Madonna used some images in a video a few years ago, and whither Madonna goes....) 
"Voudon has similar roots, but without the Christian influences.  It also involved a lot more of the dark side--sacrifice (traditionally chicken, but not always) and yes, zombies, or calling back the dead to walk and do the priest's or priestess's bidding." 
(Dr. Marguerite Connor)

"Santeria is a syncretistic religion of Caribbean origin. It incorporates the worship of the Orisha (literally "head guardian") and beliefs of the Yoruba and Bantu people in Southern Nigeria, Senegal and Guinea Coast. These are combined with elements of worship from Roman Catholicism. "  (source)

Voodoo ritual


The source of Rastafari lies in a specific geographical area, the Nile Valley, a huge region that includes Egypt in the North and Ethiopia in the south. . . .

In Jamaica, 1930's was a period of social unrest and labour movement,   It was a perfect context for the rise of a band of islanders who divorced themselves mentally from an oppressive social system. This cult, Rastafarianism, thus became cast as a religion of the dispossessed among those who failed to acknowledge the intellectual rigor of many practitioners (the depth of Biblical and historical knowledge displayed at a Rastafarian reasoning is intense).

Links: (external)


Obeah, "Obeah Nights" and Christophine

photos of Voodoo rituals
Obeah as a part of Caribbean existence 
a creolized practice of African religions and Christianity (memory of Africa)
  • both negative and positive meanings
--negative: evil magic (esp. for the white colonizers)                                --positive: as a source of rebellion against slavery (ex. Nanny and the Maroons in Jamaican legends)
In WSS, Christophine is an obeah woman (a Nanny figure)
-- Antoinette's fear--imagining the occult objects hidden in the room (p.18)
-- black people's fear of her--Amele (p.61)
-- the love portion (p.82) and the sleep medicine for Antoinette (p.91)

letter to Francis Wyndham (4/14/1964) 

textbook: p.138-9 
Rhys's "writer's cramp" and the help from "Obeah Night" (p. 141-3)--a poem written in the name of Edward Rochester or Raworth:

"I think there were several Antoinettes and Mr Rochesters.  Indeed I am sure. . . .  Mr R.'s name ought to be changed. . . .  In the poem (if it's that) Mr Rochester (or Raworth) consoles himself or justifies himself by saying that his Antoinette runs away after the "Obeah nights"  and that the creature who comes back is not the one who ran away. . .   Antoinette herself comes back but so changed that perhaps she was 'lost Antoinette'|." (p.140)--zombie 
 humfra altar
  Two major scenes of Christophine in WWS
Christophine and Antoinette (p.64-71)
Christophine and Rochester (p.90-7)
Analyze the powerful presence of Christophine.  How does Rhys describe her appearance and her linguistic competence?  What is the significance of the fact that she disappears before the end of the novel?  Gayatri Spivak and Benita Parry have very different view of Christophine.  What is your stand in this argument and why?
Two Quotes about Christophine
Spivak on imperialism: !§Christophine is tangential to this narrative.  She cannot be contained by a novel which rewrites a canonical English text within the European novelist tradition in the interest of the white Creole rather than the native.!‥  (p.246)
Parry on Spivak: !§what Spivak!|s strategy of reading necessarily blots out is Christophine!|s inscription as the native, female, individual Self who defies the demands of the discriminatory discourses impinging on her person.!‥ (p.248)


cocoa plantation
  • Slave Trade: popular from 1500 to 1860. 
  • Life in plantation--
  • Different forms of rebellion by the slaves in plantations: riot, petit marronage (小走私) in francophone islands-leaving home to meet girl friend, or a forbidden church meeting. 
    Names: Nanny Grigg in Barbados; Daaga in Trinidad, who lead the first West India Regiment. 
    Also: the slaves can rebel with music, dance, religion, or simply their different way of living.  They can pretend sickness, steal, or even poison their masters. 
  • Racial Composition in the Caribbean: besides white masters and black slaves, there were also poor whites, criminals, exiles, social misfits and people escaping from faminine, political and religious proscution at home.   The most special is the "gens de couleur" or mulatto in the area. 
  • Racial conflicts in Post-Emancipation period:
    There were also conflicts between different races, and between plantation owners and small farmers, between the newly rich and the declining aristocrats.    While the whites were on the decrease, mulatto not only increased in number, but also worked hard to earn money, social status as well as political rights.  On the one hand, some newly rich used their money to imitate the whites ("black skin, white mask").  They were, however, looked down upon by the whites and blacks alike, seen as white cockroaches.   (Cf. Wide Sargasso Sea.)   There were even laws (Danish colonial statute book) preventing them from imitating whites and enjoying their luxuries (e.g. jewlery, silk socks, masquerade). 
  • In Trinidad, there have also been conflicts between (East) Indians and West Indians (or Francophone blacks).
  • Among the island-nations nowadays, there are also conflicts.  For instance, Bajans are not welcome in some Caribbean areas, and Jamaicans might also be targeted in Toronto. 
  • Creolization: This idea can be applied to both Europeans born in the Caribbean, mulatto and to the mixture of English and African tribal languages into some special kinds of native languages (Patois, such as French Patois, Jamaican Patois).   The English used in Barbados is closest to standard English, whereas in the other islands, there is often a "postcreole continuum" which parallels the social hierarchy to some degrees (--those speaking in creole are looked down upon). 
  • Creole Language and its Subversive Power--a paper in Chinese by Feng Pin-chia; 
  • Patois Dictionary; Another Patois Dictionary (remote link)
  • Neocolonialism
    "Caribbean Basin Initative"-- the Reagan Administration's Caribbean Basin Initative linked to neo-colonialism and the collapse of the Jamaican economy in the 1980s.  "The entire CBI campaign had been a bribe to induce Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean to accredit the armed confrontation in Grenada.  It also provided a cover for $75 million in additional combat funding for the war in El Salvador."


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