Folklore: Latin American and Caribbean Culture Heroes and Characters
Folklore: Latin American and Caribbean Culture Heroes and Characters
In order to make sense out of a senseless experience, people of African descent who were forcibly transported from the continent to the New World relied very heavily on their memory of various homelands, of their original roots in times and places that, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist except in their collective imagination. As many intellectuals and artists have illustrated, the enslaved Africans clung tenaciously to their ancestral mores both as a political statement, or act of rebellion, and as a psychological necessity. Moreover, they devised ways of camouflaging their expressions of Africanity, often with a thin veneer of European icons, when their captors tried to eradicate their history. In spite of a five-hundred-year transculturation process, African peoples in the New World struggled to maintain their psycho-emotional ties to cultures that were physically beyond their grasp but that were consistently and repeatedly evoked in their oral traditions. Thus, Isidore Okpewho (1999) observes that "in their folklore and their folklife, especially in tales they had learned from parents and other relatives, African-descended Americans found an outlet for reassuring themselves of indigenous values they found lacking in the culture of those who ruled their lives even in freedom" (Okpewho et. al., p. xv). On the other hand, one might very well argue that African-based cultural beliefs and practices were embedded as forms of resistance because of the imposition of Western cultures. Thus, Jesús García (2001) cautions against the trivialization of African-derived modes of being by labeling them as "folklore." He comments: "We need to develop a pedagogy of self-perception…. To fail to do so is to continue to view ourselves through borrowed eyes. African cultures in the Americas, rather than quaint but superficial folklore, are cultures of resistance based on African philosophical principles that we must rediscover, that persist and reshape themselves as time passes and as changes occur in our communities" (p. 288).
By "cultures of resistance" García means that African-American societies are engaged in "a dynamic process in which their original cultural elements are set in opposition to the pressure of colonial and postcolonial religious and governmental authorities' attempts to 'disappear' them. We deliberately imagine the possibility of cultural exchange in the Americas on an equal plane of mutual respect and tolerance, insisting upon the possibility of a reciprocal process of cultural transformation that guarantees the peaceful coexistence of both colonial European and African cultural traditions in contemporary social contexts." García does not deny the impact of other groups on African-American cultures, for they are often the result of syncretism, or the blending of African and European ways of life with additional influences from a multitude of Native-American/indigenous and Asian ethnicities. In short, African-oriented traditions are replete with imaginary characters, historical personages, and legendary figures that became the culture heroes that have sustained people within the confines of race, class, and gender. Since the number of protagonists in the oral traditions is so large, time and space will permit examination of selected examples of black fictional characters and culture heroes in Latin America and the Caribbean. The discussion will begin with Anancy the Spider as the fictional prototype of the Maroon, or the historical and legendary figure who is elevated to the status of culture hero by virtue of his resistance to dominance and oppression. Then the focus will be on a few renowned leaders such as Zumbi as well as some lesser known figures such as Zeferina.
One of the most absurd consequences of the European encounter with peoples from Africa, Asia, and the Americas was the emphasis on skin color and its accompanying physical features as a sign of culture. The issue of black and white, brown and white, red and white, or yellow and white—in that order—is still current in the twenty-first century, and it does not seem inclined to vanish anytime soon. As far as Latin America and the Caribbean are concerned, the vast majority of the people are of mixed origin in various degrees, which comes from Amerindian, African, Asian, and European components. This phenomenon is called mestizaje. However, race is a volatile subject because there is a vehement denial that race counts or that racism exists, even in the face of racial and ethnic awareness movements in communities throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Darien Davis (2000) comments on race in that region:
Blackness, like any ethnic or racial categorization, is an arbitrary social construct nuanced by geography, language and history. What North Americans call black may in Latin America and the Caribbean be translated in a variety of ways, including negro, mulato, cafuso, moreno, trigueño, antillano, prieto, Afro–Latin American, creole, light-skinned and so on. Furthermore, social and personal relations, education, economic opportunities and other variables make it possible to change one's racial classification. These distinctions notwithstanding, blackness in Latin America is inextricably connected to the trans-Atlantic slave trade which brought the majority of blacks to the Americas.
The figure known as the Soucouyant (or soucougnan/soukounyan ) in much of the Eastern Caribbean and referred to by a variety of other names across the Caribbean as a whole—Fire Hag, Old Heg, Old Hige, Gagé, Volant, Azeman—is usually represented as a woman who sheds her skin at night, stores it in a jar, transforms herself into a ball of fire, and roams around sucking the blood from her sleeping victims, particularly babies. To defeat her, members of the community can throw salt or pepper on themselves and on any expected victims, or on the skin she has abandoned, or they can scatter rice grains or salt on the windows and doors through which she will pass. Her torment from itching or her failure to count every single rice grain will make her vulnerable to capture, at which point she might be beaten, exiled, killed, or boiled alive in a vat of tar.
Like the part-human, part-horse bête a man ibé who wanders around screaming at night dragging an iron chain around her waist, and the Rolling Calf (also known as Steel Donkey or May Cow ) whose bloodshot eyes and nighttime wanderings indicate the restlessness of an evil person who cannot find peace after death, the Soucouyant reflects the richness of the imaginative resources and cultural origins of the Caribbean's oral traditions. The loup garou —literally werewolf—of some Francophone-Creole-speaking territories, often depicted as old women who need blood every night in exchange for the devil's powers, seem to be more closely related, for example, to vampires. Besides Europe's vampires, the obayfo of the Akan of West Africa, which sheds its skin after turning into a ball of fire, and the sukunya and her male counterpart, sukunyadyo, of the Fula/Soninke people—witches who eat humans—provide sources that help to explain the origin of these figures, but not necessarily their meanings, since the significance of such figures changes over time in every society, in transference from one space to another.
Witches who are gender-neutral, or typical of both genders in West Africa in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, are gendered female in many Caribbean tales, according to Giselle Anatol, just as the significance of vampires has altered according to fears about women's sexuality and independence. The moral ambivalence generated by slavery and the slave trade, the ways in which colonial authorities in the region made their own interpretations of the oral narratives they heard and then transcribed into court records or anthropological documents, the impact of Protestantism and Catholicism on the worldview of storytellers: all necessarily produced changes in the moral implications of these figures over time. Just as the connections between the Caribbean water goddess Mama Dlo (Mama Glo, River Mumma, Water-Mama, Fairmaid ) and the West African water deity Mammywata might tell us more about the specific economic and psychological impact of the slave trade on Africa's west coast than her general identification with the Ibo Uhamiri/Idemili and Yoruba Osun deities, critics caution against romanticizing these figures and the supposedly simple and cohesive oral communities which they are often held to reflect, and against giving them a one-to-one correspondence with "Old World" African, European, or Asian sources.
They point out that the fiction of recent Caribbean women is critical of the ways in which repressive political regimes draw on the moral authority of the folktale by using the soucouyant and other figures to terrorize the society or to demonize women who have passed the age of childbearing, and whose autonomy is thus potentially threatening.
The characters who inhabit the oral tales of the region certainly indicate a longstanding tradition of storytelling characterized by interaction between storyteller and audience—"Krik?" "Krak! Monkey break he back on a rotten pomerac!"—as well as by the ironic disavowal of the storyteller: "So me get it, so me gi' it, Jack Mandora, me no choose none." But they also suggest that the interpretive possibilities of these figures remain as rich as the variety of social contexts—theater, art, dance, popular music, religion, politics, fiction, and poetry—that continue to make use of them.
Anatol, Giselle. "Transforming the Skin-Shedding Soucouyant: Using Folklore to Reclaim Female Agency in Caribbean Literature." Small Axe 7 (March 2000): 44–59.
Cobham, Rhonda. "Mwen na rien, Msieu: Jamaica Kincaid and the Problem of Creole Gnosis." Callaloo 25, 3 (Summer 2002): 868–884.
Danticat, Edwidge. "Nineteen Thirty-Seven." Krik? Krak! 33–49. New York: Soho Press, 1995.
Davies, Carole Boyce. "'Woman Is a Nation…' Women in Caribbean Oral Literature." Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature. 165–193. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1990.
Francis, Donette. "Uncovered Stories: Politicizing Sexual histories in Third Wave Caribbean Women's Writings." Black Renaissance Noire 6 (Fall 2004): 61–81.
Mulrain, George. Theology in Folk Culture: The Theological Significance of Haitian Folk Religion. New York: Verlag Peter Lang, 1984.
Parsons, Elsie Clews. Folklore of the Antilles, French and English. 3 vols. New York: American Folk-Lore Society: 1933, 1936, 1943.
Szwed, John and Roger Abrahams. Afro-American Folk Culture: An Annotated Bibliography from North, Central and South America and the West Indies. 2 vols. New York: Publications of the American Folklore Society, 1978.
Warner-Lewis, Maureen. Guinea's Other Suns: The African Dynamic in Trinidad Culture. Dover, Mass.: The Majority Press, 1991.
faith smith (2005)
Blackness is not a monolithic entity, for each nation espouses unique values and patterns of classification that determine its own definition of black culture. However, it must be pointed out that changing one's racial category, originally known as "gracias al sacar, " or "thanks for taking me out of my blackness," constitutes by its very nature an identity crisis because the movement is always "up and away from blackness." No one wishes to change from white, however that is defined, to black. The process of "improving" one's self and/or family by "marrying up" is called blanqueamiento (Spanish) or branqueamento (Portuguese), and it is embedded in the concept of Hispanidad or Lusofonidad. While this might bring a degree of tolerance, it does not guarantee unconditional acceptance. The specter of the black ancestor (grandmother) is always lurking in the shadows, and those who would define or redefine themselves as "white" live in constant dread of that skeleton. One must understand these contradictory discourses in Latin America and the Caribbean in order to appreciate fully their oral and written literature. To facilitate the discussion of the fictional characters and culture heroes, this article will proceed in a somewhat chronological order according to the unfolding of historical events in the Caribbean, Mexico, the Andes, Brazil, the Guyanas, Haiti, the Southern Cone, and Central America. Haiti merits separate treatment because it stands in a class by itself in terms of its cultural resistance to European hegemony.
The Caribbean Basin
Anancy the Spider (also written as Ananci, Ananse, Anansy, Ananncy, or Nancy) is a protagonist of African origin who is very popular in Jamaica and other areas of the Caribbean. Moreover, Mariela Gutiérrez (1999) informs readers that the name "Anancy" is derived from the Ashanti word for "spider" because many Africans transported to Jamaica were of Ashanti origin. According to Benjamín Núñez (1980), the most recurrent Jamaican version of Anancy is a humanized character, a "little-baldheaded man with a falsetto voice and cringing manner … who … lives by his wits and treats outrageously anyone on whom he can impose his superior cunning" (p. 26). Anancy can also assume other human forms: a famous fiddler, a magician, or a quick-witted son who outsmarts his father. In Haiti Anancy is a spider trickster-hero and a buffoon. Henry Louis Gates (1988) identifies Anancy as one of the many animal characters like B'rer Rabbit in the United States whose African archetype was Eleggua, a capricious deity of the crossroads and guardian of the household. The body of oral tales centered around Anancy's exploits are called Anancy (Nancy) stories, and they have spread all over the Caribbean as highly eclectic tales loved by adults and children alike. When Anancy is presented as an animal in a fable, the story is connected to its African origins. However, when he is a character in a fairy tale, there is some modifying European influence in play. Nevertheless, in some Anancy tales both traditions are operative. The Anancy stories frequently maintain the traditional device, almost universal in African societies, of interjecting a short song at crucial moments in the narrative.
Dorothy Mosby (2003) informs readers that in the migration of the Ashanti people from Africa (present-day Ghana) to Jamaica, and the relocation of the Jamaican people from that island to the Atlantic Coast of Central America (Costa Rica), Anancy was transformed from a demigod into a symbol of cultural marronage. Moreover, this transformation is signified by a change in language. That is, Anancy, or Brother Spider in English, becomes Hermano Araña in Spanish or Bredda Spider in Creole. Like his counterpart B'rer Rabbit in the United States, Anancy is perceived as a small, weak animal that survives by outwitting others—Hermano Tigre (Bredda Tiger), Hermano Tacuma (Bredda Tacuma), Hermano Conejo (Bredda Rabbit), Hermano Mono (Bredda Monkey), Hermano Perro (Bredda Dog), and Hermano Cabra (Bredda Goat). On the other hand, behind Anancy's affable mask and whimsical nature lies a formidable personage who can devastate his enemy. Consequently, the Anancy stories throughout the Caribbean have served multiple functions: as forms of entertainment to revive the human spirit, as learning tools to teach survival skills, as antidotes for feelings of alienation and displacement, as consolation for depression and despair, and as liberating sites of cultural resistance to oppression. The enslaved Africans were steeped in traditions like the Anancy stories and used them as models for real-life encounters.
Ronald Segal observes that the harsh conditions of slavery led to revolts from the moment the Africans set foot on the shores of the Americas. In Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) one of the first uprisings occurred on December 27, 1522, when twenty slaves belonging to Diego Columbus (son of the admiral himself) joined with twenty other captives from a neighboring plantation to attack the Spaniards. The Africans took refuge in none other than the mountain retreat of Enrique, an indigenous cacique (chief) who had already rebelled against the encomienda by conducting his own kind of guerrilla warfare against the Spanish authorities. Although the defiant Africans were hunted down and captured, their message was clear—they would risk everything for freedom. As Spain advanced its empire, there were similar uprisings on other islands and the mainland of South America—in Puerto Rico (1527); in Panama, led by King Bayano (1550s); in Venezuela, led by Andresoto (1730s) and Miguel Luango (1749); and in Cuba, led by José Antonio Aponte (1812). However, one of the most successful instances of cultural resistance in the Americas took place in Mexico at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
Yanga (Nyanga) is the most famous black leader in Mexican history, but most official history books do not acknowledge him. Perhaps a native of Angola, Yanga maintained that he was a Congolese prince. Michael C. Meyer and William L. Sherman report that "around the beginning of the seventeenth century the threat of black resistance centered in the eastern region, especially near Veracruz. There an elderly slave named Yanga had held out in the mountains for thirty years" (Meyer and Sherman, p. 216). From that site Yanga and his warriors regularly assaulted travelers on the Mexico City–Veracruz highway, and they raided haciendas in the vicinity. The Spaniards undertook a military campaign against Yanga's maroon colony in 1609, and they were met with fierce resistance. However, they finally defeated Yanga's troops in 1611. Yet like Anancy, Yanga managed to persuade Viceroy Luis De Velazco to concede his freedom and that of his people on the condition that the Maroons kept the peace, took no more fugitives, and obeyed Spanish laws. By 1612 Yanga's settlement was relocated to a place called San Lorenzo de los Negros de Córdoba. Today the descendants of the cimarrones (Maroons) still live there, albeit in deplorable conditions. In fact, they are Mexico's "forgotten people." Furthermore, there is a museum in the city and state of Jalapa with a statue honoring Yanga along with archival information and illustrations documenting his courageous deeds. Perhaps the modern observer might view Yanga as a "sellout," but considering his options at the time, his negotiations with the Spaniards are to be commended. Besides, many cimarrones often ignored the stipulation to turn away other Maroons, so their settlements were often replenished with newcomers. In the course of time, blacks were erased from Mexican history. Thus, the unacknowledged African presence in Mexico, or la tercera raíz (the third root), is documented by Marco Polo Hernández-Cuevas in African Mexicans and the Discourse on Modern Nation (2004).
As early as 1544 cimarrones were attacking and robbing farms on the outskirts of Lima and Trujillo, Peru. However, many were subdued and executed but at great cost to the Spanish officials. Peru was also the site of two significant revolts that involved an alliance of Africans and indigenous people. Near Cuzco in the highland province of Vilcabamba, the Spaniards had enslaved a large workforce to mine the gold deposits. In response to this particularly harsh form of exploitation, the fugitives from Vilcabamba united in 1609 with Aymara-speaking forces under the leadership of the Amerindian Francisco Chichima. This coalition was so formidable that the Spaniards had to rely on the help of "loyal" (pacified) Native-American groups to stamp out the rebellion. A second wave consisting of galley slaves fled from the port city of Callao to the hills above Lima. Moreover, the maroon community they established successfully evaded the authorities until a free mulatto soldier located its hideout and led a detachment of Spanish troops there to capture them. The same kinds of resistance occurred in parts of Bolivia and Ecuador, although historians are still documenting them. In every instance one sees that enslaved peoples realized that they could not engage in open combat with the European colonials because the latter had the advantage of an endless supply of weapons and horses. Consequently, like Anancy the Trickster, the maroon leader had to rely on flight, subterfuge, attack, withdrawal, and, above all, strategy, to engage in guerrilla warfare in territory that was unfamiliar to him. This put the Spanish officials on notice that the cost of empire was much greater than they had anticipated. Even more important, word of successful rebellions, revolts, and uprisings inevitably spread through the oral traditions of the enslaved Africans, thus boosting their morale. Anancy kept hope alive.
In his study of the maroon communities known as quilombos in Brazil, Gilberto Leal (2001) distinguishes between passive and active forms of resistance. A kind of passive resistance called banzo was a lingering melancholia that was tantamount to work slowdown or stoppage, catatonia, playing dumb, or other kinds of physical and psychophysical inactivity. On the other hand, the establishment of a quilombo was an act of open rebellion. The most triumphant maroon community in the seventeenth century was the Palmares Republic, a confederation of several mocambos (settlements) in the district of Alagoas, in the captaincy of Pernambuco (northeastern Brazil), which lasted from 1605 to 1695. Two of its most renowned leaders came to be known as Ganza Zumba (uncle) and Zumbi (nephew), although it is not clear whether these were proper names or titles. (Segal  asserts that ganga-zumba means "supreme chief," like pharaoh, while zumbi means "war chief.") The Maroons who lived in the quilombos were called quilombolas. Jõao Reis (2001) observes that:
the population of the quilombo initially consisted of formerly enslaved Africans from several ethnic groups from the present-day Angolo-Congo areas. Some of its military and political organizations have been linked to an Imbangala military society called kilombo. This institution was probably reinvented, although not entirely reproduced, by the Palmarinos to respond to the military circumstances that they faced in Brazil. It was only after Palmares was established that the word quilombo became synonymous with mocambo, the term most often used until then to describe maroon settlements, as if Palmares had become symbolic of future maroon communities. (p. 302)
One military expedition after another was sent by the Dutch and Portuguese to capture the Palmarinos, but the quilombolas successfully resisted the hegemonic forces until internal differences began to divide them.
In 1678 Ganga Zumba signed a treaty with the colonial government in which the Maroons would be guaranteed land and freedom for those born in the quilombos in exchange for loyalty to the Portuguese crown and a pledge to turn in all runaways from slavery. Naturally the Portuguese did not honor the treaty and the Maroons quarreled over what should be the proper response to them. It appears that the faction supporting the nephew poisoned his uncle, and Zumbi became the supreme ruler. Under his leadership, Palmares survived assaults from combined European forces for nearly twenty years, and when it was finally subjugated, it was due to betrayal by one of its own. On November 20, 1695, the remaining guerrillas in Zumbi's battalion were captured and killed. It is believed that Zumbi himself committed suicide rather than submit to enslavement.
In the spirit of Zumbi and the Palmarinos, a courageous Yoruba woman by the name of Zeferina headed a maroon settlement formed by other Yoruba people outside the city of Bahia, Brazil. In 1826 Zeferina organized and led an uprising against the plantation masters, but it was quelled by government troops. The insurgents were incarcerated and subsequently executed. Thus, cultural resistance was not the exclusive patrimony of males, and today these figures are heroes who inspire Afro-Brazilians with black awareness to continue the liberation struggle. November 20, 1695, the date of the death of Zumbi/Palmares, has been designated as the National Day of Black Consciousness by Afro-Brazilian civil rights and cultural organizations. Furthermore, in 1995 three significant events occurred in Brazil: "the commemoration of Three Hundred Years of Immortality for Zumbi of Palmares; the Zumbi of Palmares March Against Racism and for Equality and Life; and the selection of 'Zumbi, 300 years of Courage' as the theme of the Bahian carnival" (Leal, p. 299). Anancy the Spider lives on.
The northern area of Tierra Firme, or continental South American, presents an interesting parallel in black cultural resistance to oppression. For one thing, it was the scene of rivalry among various European powers. Sir Walter Raleigh initiated England's interest in the Guyanas in his pursuit of El Dorado, or the legend of the "Gilded One." When he published The Discoverie of Guiana (1595), other nations took note and soon began sending expeditions to that region. By 1665 the British, Dutch, and French had founded settlements in Guyana territory, all three claiming the entire area between the Orinoco and Amazon rivers. After skirmishes in Europe and the Americas, the Dutch and English finally came to terms with each other, trading New Amsterdam (New York) and Surinam, respectively. No sooner had the smoke cleared than a slave revolt broke out in 1730, and although the Dutch attempted to crush it, the settlers and Maroons continued to fight each other up to 1749. Circumstances were so bad for the Dutch colonists that they sued the rebels for peace. In 1762 the Dutch recognized two large black communities, the Saramaca and the Ouca, by granting them their freedom. Just as the case of Yanga, the Maroons were given arms and ammunition in exchange for their promise to be loyal allies to the Dutch, to deliver up future runaways, and to keep their "proper distance" from the capital and plantations. By the 1770s the maroon communities had organized themselves into a dozen villages each under a local leader, among whom were Chief Baron, Chief Kofi (Coffi, Cuffee), Chief Atta, and Chief Akkara. As expected, the Maroons of Surinam did not keep their promise to turn away other rebels, so their forces grew and the Dutch went on the offensive. John Stedman, captain of the Scots Brigade in mercenary recruitment, documents the strategies of the Saramaka warriors, as reported by Ronald Segal (1995): "Against the well-armed military forces, they employed their developing skills as guerrilla fighters. They would shoot from behind trees and use spies to track the troops until these were so weakened by disease or vulnerably positioned as to invite attack" (p. 98). In addition, the Maroons would often lure Dutch battalions into the swamps and when the latter were stuck in the mud, take leisurely pot shots at them from the surrounding bushes. Inevitably, human factors such as rivalry, jealousy, and greed divided the rebels, who were finally defeated by 1780. Nevertheless, the Dutch soldiers and colonists suffered great loss of life and property, and many fled the Guyanas for the Netherlands or other parts of the Americas. It was indeed a Pyrrhic victory.
Although Haiti is part of the Caribbean Basin, the events that transpired there a century ago merit a distinct treatment. Of all the sites of cultural resistance, Haiti provided the perfect setting for the ultimate experiment—unconditional freedom for enslaved Africans. For one thing, the mistreatment of enslaved Africans in France's prized possession of Saint Domingue was among the worst in the Americas. For another, the mortality rate was astronomical, and slaves had to be replaced so quickly that the process of creolization (acculturation) could not take effect on the replacements. This tragic irony made possible the growth of an active resistance movement on the island.
There is no doubt that men like Toussaint-Louverture, Henri Christophe, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines stand out in their roles as leaders of the Haitian Revolution. However, their contributions are well documented in many sources, especially in C. L. R. James's classic, The Black Jacobins (1938). Less prominent is the role of the common people, those who lived and moved along the fringes and in the shadows but who, nevertheless, played significant parts in the liberation of Haiti. One such historical figure is Mackandal (Macandal), who worked in a sugar mill of the Lenormand plantation near the northern city of Le Cap. One day Mackandal's arm got crushed in the sugar press and the overseer had to amputate it. The astute, one-armed worker was then placed in the pasture-lands to guard the cattle, but he escaped sometime around 1751 and joined a community of Maroons in the mountains. Mackandal soon became their leader, organized raids on plantations in the vicinity, and gained a reputation for bravery as well as immortality. Like Anancy, Mackandal uses his intelligence to plot his enemy's downfall.
Skilled in herbal medicine, the priest/seer/chieftain arranged for the distribution of poison to his followers on a certain day in 1757. All whites were targets. However, Mackandal's scheme was uncovered and the French authorities were able to ambush him. The official version of Mackandal's destiny is that he was captured in March 1758 and burned at the stake. Conversely, his disciples believed that just as the flames were about to engulf him, their hero broke the chains that bound him and, in a final act of defiance, changed into a mosquito that flew away, but that would return in human form one day. Cuban Alejo Carpentier captures the drama of Mackandal's death in The Kingdom of This World (1949), a novel about the Haitian Revolution. More germane to this study, the tale of aerial flight evokes the popular belief of enslaved Africans throughout the Americas that upon death their souls would fly back to Guinea (Africa). The flight motif is succinctly projected in The People Could Fly (1985), a collection of tales by U.S. writer Virginia Hamilton.
Mackandal's death was only a temporary setback. Bouckman (Boukman) was a second religious figure and political leader who took up the baton of freedom. A fugitive from Jamaica and a priest of Vodun, Bouckman resorted to the strategies of that cult to forge a system of communication for organizing the next phase of the Haitian Revolution, which began on August 14, 1791. Although Bouckman, too, was killed early in the battle, other equally committed individuals and groups continued to fight until they were united under Toussaint-Louverture. The rest is history as Saint Domingue was the first American colony to successfully throw off the yoke of colonialism and slavery from the most powerful European power in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—France under the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte. It is fitting that the black rebels chose the indigenous name Haiti, which means "mountain," to designate their new nation and new identity. Not only did the Haitian Revolution shake the foundations of European hegemony, it also set the tone of rebellion for the entire hemisphere. The irony is that the white Creole colonials feared the emancipated slaves more than they yearned for freedom from the metropolises, and this ambivalence delayed their own independence movements, especially in the Caribbean. Haiti was the anathema of the entire hemisphere, for the European settlers could not conceive of sharing freedom, equality, and brotherhood with the enslaved Africans in their respective enclaves. All the strategies of resistance available to the trickster—concoction, dissimulation, stealth, attack, retreat, confrontation, and negotiation—came into play during the Haitian Revolution. Anancy was truly a disturber of the peace.
The Southern Cone
At the southern end of South America lies a conicalshaped area called the Southern Cone, which includes the countries of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay (and sometimes southern Brazil). Moreover, these nations boast of uniqueness based on their "whiteness" in contrast to the rest of the continent. It is appropriate that the "disappearance" of black peoples and cultures in the Southern Cone be addressed just as the "disappeared ones" during the repressive governments of the 1970s and 1980s has been the focus of intense publicity in recent times. While academic opinion varies on Chile, recent studies have brought to light information of the African presence in Argentina. Romero Jorge Rodríguez (2001) informs readers that:
Beginning in 1538, Buenos Aires was one of the principal ports of entrance for Africans to South America. Buenos Aires also served as a stopover for thousands of Africans en route to the mines and the Casa de la Moneda (the Mint) in Potosí, Bolivia. Many enslaved Africans remained in Argentinean villages and towns along the way. Census figures from the colonial period demonstrate a significant African presence. As early as 1778, one-third of the population of Buenos Aires was of African origin, and according to the 1810 census, in some cities Blacks comprised 60 percent of the population. Thus, the Black population was demographically, hence socially and culturally, significant in Argentina's early history. (p. 316)
What happened to the descendants of all these people? Scholars debate the issue, but the most common reasons given include the end of the legal slave trade in 1813 (although contraband activity continued for a long time); the drafting of enslaved Africans with the promise of freedom, or the forced recruitment of freed Africans to serve in the colonial and national armies; the high mortality rate caused by disease and poverty; and the wave of European immigration that came about as a result of certain practices under the presidencies of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento and Juan Bautista Alberdi. The last reason is of great concern because Sarmiento and Alberdi engineered a state policy of deliberate extermination of the indigenous and African populations during the 1880s. European immigration was seen by some as a way to erase blackness from Argentina and Latin America, and considered, by these same individuals, as a necessary step on the road to progress and modernization.
A case in point is the story of Falucho, the nickname for a black soldier of the Regiment of the Río de la Plata who was a native of Buenos Aires. Falucho was stationed in the port of Callao, near Lima, Peru, along with other soldiers in combined forces against the Spanish government. After a mutiny on February 7, 1824, royalist troops stormed the rebel barracks and raised the Spanish banner. The Argentine regiment was ordered to mount guard and salute the enemy flag. Instead, the black freedman broke his musket against the flagstaff and was shot to death as he yelled out, "Viva Buenos Aires!" (Núñez, p. 186). More often than not, soldiers like Falucho were sent to the front lines without the benefit of weapons to defend themselves. Lucía Dominga Molina and Mario Luis López (2001) provide ample statistics on Afro-Argentine soldiers. Rodríguez supplies information on Afro-Bolivians of the Yungas provinces in Bolivia and the Afro-Paraguayans called Cambá Cuá, of mixed African and Guaraní heritages. In the face of overwhelming odds, these groups forged viable identities by maintaining elements of African cultures, resisting those aspects of Western cultures they considered harmful and embracing those that were beneficial. Anancy is famous for his adaptability.
To represent the Afro-Caribbean experience in Central America, it is fitting to end this discussion with a focus on Anancy in Costa Rica, who emerges in the historical and legendary figure of Joe Gordon during the 1930s. There are no official documents attesting to the reality of Joe Gordon, a banana worker who revolted against the exploitation of the United Fruit Enterprise, but that is often the case in African-American history. According to popular legend, Joe Gordon was fired from his job when he let a carload of bananas plunge into a ravine to save a fellow worker. Gordon placed a higher value on human life than on a wagonful of fruit, but the management of the company was incensed over the material loss. After his dismissal, Gordon had plenty of time to think about the implications of his mistreatment and that of people like him. He soon realized that systemic, rather than individual, oppression was the real issue that had to be addressed. Thus, Gordon carefully planned attacks on the banana plantation, raided the company store, and surprised the manager in his residence to take back from the exploiters, redistribute the wealth to the most indigent in their community, and inspire fear in the authorities. In true Robin Hood fashion, this Anancy figure draws a following. Joe Gordon's exploits are extracted from the oral tradition in a poem called "The Outlaw," by Alderman Roden Johnson, a firstgeneration writer of Jamaican descent in Costa Rica who wrote in English:
He had a grievance that he nursed
Against the bad white man.
He nurtured it until it worsened
And grew clear out of hand.
Thence Joe went on to plunder
The Fruit Company's store,
With skill and without blunder
He would "even the score."
And very many were the poor
Who at morn did arise
To find a fortune at their door
And scarce could believe their eyes.
It was a present from their "Joe"
Left there during the night.
Thus Joe stole from the hated foe
To relieve the oppressed poor's plight. (Cited in Mosby, p. 51)
Eventually Joe Gordon is hunted down, captured, and executed, but in the popular imagination he resurrects himself. He becomes a community legend, a culture hero, and a symbol of resistance to an oppressed people, just as Yanga, Zumbi, Mackandal, Zeferina, and all the others who resisted, struggled, sacrificed, and triumphed, if not in body then certainly in spirit. Fiction writer Quince Duncan metaphorically captures the absurdity/tragicomedy of the African experience in the West in "The Legend of Joe Gordon," which is part of the Best Short Stories collection (1995). In concrete historical terms, Anancy's story unfolds in Limón Province, Costa Rica, where the Trickster always manages to overcome or defeat all rivals/enemies except Brother Tacuma (Tucuma). Gutiérrez (1999) proposes that since Anancy represents intelligence and Tucuma justice, the two culture heroes of oral tradition might collaborate in the continuing struggle for liberation. Joe Gordon is the literary manifestation of that union.
In response to García's call for a pedagogy of self-perception, Duncan proffers a model he refers to as afro-realismo (Afro-realism) in his approach to the creation and study of Afro–Costa Rican literature and all Africaninspired writing in the Americas. Simply stated, Afro-realism functions according to six principles: the restitution of the African and African-American voices based on an Afrocentric terminology; the vindication of the symbolic African memory; the reconstruction of an informed historical memory based on diaspora experiences; the reaffirmation of the concept of ancestral community; the adoption of an intracentric narrative perspective; and the quest and proclamation of a black identity. Paradoxically, Afro-realism can be explored through the use of languages originating in Europe—Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, and Dutch—because it is informed by an Africanderived worldview. The fictional characters and culture heroes of the American diaspora are the seeds and fragments of a reality that must be reconstructed to achieve spiritual and psycho-emotional wholeness. That task is left to the writer.
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dellita martin-ogunsola (2005)
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