Saturday, July 22, 2017

MY PERSPECTIVE – FOCUS ON FRENCH CREOLE

Sunday, July 16, 2017, 18:51
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I have traveled to some fifteen Caribbean islands and countries, mostly in my work for the government over the past twenty or more years. Included in these have been Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Saint Maarten, and Surinam, along with the islands/countries of the English speaking Caribbean. I have not been to any French Caribbean territory, something that I regret and would like to 'correct,' as it were. I believe that one of my sisters has been to either Martinique or Guadeloupe. The Caribbean experience of culture and language is naturally extremely rich and exciting, and I was able to experience just a bit of it on the French Creole side by reading a novel gifted to me by my English professor sister, Dr. Lydia Baldermos Loskot of Galen University some years ago. The story is called “Mamzelle Dragonfly.” It was written by Martinican author Raphael Confiant. It was first written in French Creole, and then translated by the author into French. It was later translated into English by Linda Coverdale. It must have been most interesting to read in the original Creole or even in French. Alas, I only speak Belize Kriol, English and Spanish. The original title of the novel is “Mamzelle Libellule.” Dragonfly in Spanish is 'libelula,' and one can thus see the similarity of language from the Spanish to the French. The colonial experience in all corners of the Caribbean was very similar – oppression, slavery and indentured labour, sugar plantations and other exploitative endeavours which benefitted only the masters, expatriates, and ruling classes, as well as a widespread, sometimes dense, intermingling of cultures. These realities are on full display in “Mamzelle Dragonfly,” and the French Caribbean and Creole culture is deftly interwoven within the tale, complete with many Creole terms and figures of speech from the black Martinican community. The novel boasts an excellent Glossary of French and Creole folkloric terms like soukougnan (the folkloric old woman who sheds her skin at night to become a flying ball of fire and suck the blood of others to prolong her own life), krik-krak (the Francophone call and response for storytelling in the French West Indies), bec-de-mer (a long swordfish beak which is used as a weapon), and doudou (the creole term of endearment for darling). These and many others are generously used in the story, and there was the Creole re-telling of the famous Anansi story of tiger as Anansi's riding horse. The biographical information on Raphael Confiant tells us that he became a strong proponent of the use of French Creole, and, together with other Martinican writers, created the Creolite movement as a reaction to the Negritude movement, which emphasized the African origins of Caribbean people. Creolite, on the other hand, emphasizes the diversity of Caribbean ancestry and cultural heritage, including Chinese, Indian, European and other influences, according to his biography. “The [Creolite] movement seeks to understand the diverse identities and histories of the people of the Antilles through the lens of literature and language and eschews the universal in favour of a diverse view of language and identity.” One can see and feel Confiant's world view emerge incisively in “Mamzelle Dragonfly.” And I believe that throughout the Caribbean we can see this view of diversity portrayed in the writings and literature of our various peoples. I wish I could discuss the novel “Mamzelle Dragonfly” here at more length. I think that in this short entry the most I can do by way of brief discussion is to try to whet readers' and students' appetite to delve more into the many writings of Mr. Confiant. I marvelled at his storytelling talent in this book, (it was thoroughly enjoyable), along with what has got to be an excellent translation by Ms. Coverdale. Even the bad words and bawdy terms get strong and crystal clear treatment from the translator, who no doubt must have much experience of the many Caribbean cultures from our islands and countries of the wider Caribbean. I greatly recommend “Mamzelle Dragonfly,” and I will try to get my hands on other novels by Raphael Confiant that have been highly praised by literary critics and authors who appreciate and portray all the rich cultures of our region.
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