Origins and Ends Unknown
This piece is fifth and final in a series of pieces featuring Caribbean writers reflecting on the theme of Emancipation, first published on August 1, 2017 (Emancipation Day). Buy the Origins Hoodie in fleece at Origins YN Apparel.
I hail from the shoulder of the Caribbean archipelago. My nation is either named after a 15th century explorer (conquistador) or a European saint. Thanks to a handful historians and musicians, the moniker bestowed by the now-extinct indigenous people is less obscure. Yet somehow the argument could be made that we are still not entirely sure who and where we are in an increasingly globalized world. And these uncertainties are celebrated, defended at the very least shared in a manner that should only be described as cavalier – even when contradictory.
Certainly, nationality is critical to sense of self. But it is more arbitrary than actual. In fact, the term – that must remain separate and apart from ethnicity and citizenship for reasons that go beyond the scope of this piece – fails comically when applied to various twin-island nations such as Antigua-Barbuda and Trinidad-and-Tobago. Not only do some residents of each island within one nation often claim a different nationality, they insist somewhat vehemently on official immigration documents on declaring said difference.
Additionally, there is (some illusion of) free movement and accordingly upward mobility. But trading spaces on a map and securing different titles does not an identity make any more than powdered wigs and bayonets made for justice. Our region is still subdivided according to affluence and accents and allegiances to larger nations who once cornered the market on colonization. From CARICOM to the OAS, not all blocs are created equally or insist on equality in the access and inclusion of members.
As such, when it comes to describing my home country specifically, I typically avoid certain “finer points”. I skip the labels, especially the more contemporary and “politically correct” characterizations such as “Anglophone”, “Majority-Black”, “Afro-Caribbean”, and “Indo-patriate”.
I do not venture into origins, less I unduly pay homage to the glory-seeking sailors.
I try to keep the narrative brief as to not be triggered; spurred to think about neither the tragic reasons discoverers nor the discovered exist in our society.
I’ve become adept at omitting the genocide, the rape, the disease, the injurious monoculture and discriminator laws. In fact, it’s been a decade of convenience foregoing what Spartan details the CXC history curricula required us to recall for assignments and examinations. For uninitiated tourists, especially I offer some “run-of-the-sugar-mill” response that does not require much thought or verification. “Small. Independent. Tens of thousands. Sand, sea, and sun.”
This means I start at the very convenient era of the mid-eighties. No Encomiendas or Montesinos. No Moyne Commissions. Thought I might speak of sovereignty, I do not reference abolition, amelioration, apprenticeship, colonization, federation or any other progress point toward full independence. And I’m definitely cautious about the status of sovereignty given that certain allegiances, appointments and approvals are sought through application to a crown that long abandoned responsibility for our collective welfare when our country was still a colony.
It would be convenient if not cathartic to blame our colonizers (the British, French and Spanish among others) for designing psychologic dissonance, diplomatic dependency and economic disadvantage into the fabric of our nations. In fact, doing so would not be unreasonable given that their deliberateness remains an issue to this day in nations that are territories of European countries. However, in their physical absence of autonomy (or at least the conditional or fractional version of it), we are provided some authority and accordingly responsibility in who and where we are. Unfortunately, just as I reflexively choose to avoid acknowledging certain details of our regional and national histories, many of our peoples prefer not to think of who and where they are in the context of our legacy. We, quite possibly, feel our individual and national identity as too vulnerable to reflect on vices, some of which have been inherited, reinvigorated and integrated into our sociopolitical machinery. We prefer our sordid past to remain underfoot, off our shoulders and detached from our backs as we attempt to carry various trappings of modern Caribbean life.
Peace within and around ourselves demands that we conserve our strength within barriers of ignorance rather than resolution. There was but a slight clash between Euro space invaders and Amerindian indigenes. The triangular trade of kidnapped tribes is a footnote to be capitalized throughout in February and August. The canons and muskets are, as the dilapidated aqueducts, relics of a nation’s growing pains.
The texts filled with varied treatise exist only to pass exams. Slaves and mass graves happened to other people in another time at a different place from which our nation was born. Indentureship and Windrush were difficult but necessary choices that gave the Americas Chinese and the United Kingdom brown citizenry respectively.
We are the heirs, “free” of all coffles; sustained in Westminster laws, Diocesan monotheism, abridged history, Victorian literature, currencies rendered with a Queen, and infrastructure bearing the names of plantocrats all of which remain inaccessible to us at large. We are nationals within nations free to choose and refuse as many hyphens as possible, although others might choose not to honor our preferences. We are patriots who struggle with our women, although not necessarily to free our women from struggle. We are the caretakers, waiting tables and holding doors for the descendants of brokers and abolitionists, traffickers and Quakers, monks and free-masons.
We are checking boxes that have neither the appropriate labels nor subsequent “additional space” for our context.
We are on the move toward something and being someone, somewhere. Moving but ever fearful that in telling the whole truth we won’t be allowed to be free.
And through motion, eternal departure and arrival, may we come to be fully realized.
Steve D. Whittaker is a graduate student and amateur poet/writer who recently repatriated to St. Kitts-Nevis. His previous work includes a short story, "Ermine's Table" (2014) in Potbake, as well as select poems in Yale School of Medicine's literary magazine Murmurs.