Linguistics and the oral Tradition

  • Mervyn C. Alleyne


The duality of the Caribbean post-Columbian experience has important implications for several aspects of Caribbean life, including Caribbean history and historiography. It may be that ‘duality’, implying as it does two historical streams, is a rather simplistic and limiting concept since the historical reality is much more complex — Caribbean societies are generally multi-ethnic and multicultural (plural), although the African and European derived modalities predominate in most cases. However, it remains a useful working framework insofar as it captures a very general dichotomy in the history of the Caribbean and in the structure of contemporary Caribbean societies. This duality has been couched in different terms by different authors. There is first of all the most direct, specific and explicit formulation of the concept in Philip D. Curtin’s Two Jamaicas (1955). There is also the European/African conceptualization; there is the notion of plural society which is really a bimodal interpretation of Caribbean societies;1 there is the modern versus folk concept or the urban/rural dichotomy recognized by scholars in virtually every field; and, finally, Caribbean poetry, both anglophone and francophone, as evoked the psychological dimensions of the concept and represented the personal dilemma of many Caribbean individuals. Derek Walcott, in a poem entitled ‘A Far Cry From Africa’, wrote: ‘I who am poisoned by the blood of both/ Where shall I turn divided to the vein/ I who have cursed the drunken officer of British rule, how choose/ Between this Africa and the English tongue I love/ Betray them both, or give back what they gave?’ And Leon Laleau, in a poem entitled ‘Trahison’, spoke of an obsessive and untamed heart, come from Senegal, at variance with his language and dress and under the clamp of sentiments and customs borrowed from Europe.2


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 2003

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  • Mervyn C. Alleyne

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