A Two-day Interdisciplinary and International Symposium, Bowdoin College, Fall 2012
The Director’s Word
Dr. Vété-Congolo Hanétha
Associate Professor of Romance Languages, Bowdoin College
Sprouting out of European colonialism and slavery in America, the Caribbean has welcome droves of Africans deported into slavery from the XVII th to the late XIX th century. In his Yoruba Trickster Tales (1997), Oyekan Owomoyela stresses that “Storytelling is a popular form of evening entertainment in traditional African societies, […]” (ix). As to her, Constance García-Barrion, rightly reminds us in « Creatures that Haunt the Americas », Talk that Talk : An Anthology of African American Storytelling, that, « When Africans were forced into slaving ships, the creatures, invisible, slipped in with them. [...] When Africans reached the New World, the creatures stepped shore with them. […] Like the ghost who showed the soldiers the treasure, black folktales bring to light sometimes forgotten cultural treasures Africans brought to the Americas. » (357-359)
According to American folklorists of the early twentieth century, the Caribbean was the place that procured the New World the bulk of the oral tradition of Africa (Elsie Clews Parson, Folklore of the Antilles, Part I, 1930). It is one of the primary means through which the Caribbean has been bound to Africa. Traditionally, the world is made intelligible in the Caribbean primarily through ‘orality’. However, the Caribbean oral tradition strongly takes into account the European oral culture in that it systematically amalgamates African story tales to European tales such as those of the Grimm brothers or Charles Perrault. Due to the unique, systematic and systemic interrelation between African storytales and European tales in the Caribbean, I view the latter, as not a civilization of orality, like Africa can be said to be, but rather as a civilization of interorality.
Interorality is the systematic transposition of storytales composed in specific cultural and geographic zones into new and distinct tales which intrinsic specificity is to be found in the new symbolic meaning and identity the new cultural and geographic zones they are transposed in confer them. Essentially dialogical and dialectical, Interorality is the first distinctive marker of the Caribbean epistemological foundation.
It is being held that the culture of (inter)orality is no longer alive in the New World since the latter is under the steady influence of the printed word and the intense and drastic changes brought by the modern era. Consequently, scholarship on the Caribbean oral culture is scarce. However, among other ways, Caribbean interorality is abundantly articulated in the very tool it is said to be the exact opposite of, that is, writing and literature.
A little over five hundred years after its creation in the Caribbean and in light of the new regional and global economic, political, social and cultural paradigms, it is worth analyzing the forms and procedures of interorality from the historical, sociological, anthropological, cultural, philosophical and literary perspectives. Indeed, the current world being fast changing and structured around new modes of communication that redefine interorality and writing at the same time, it is critical to assess and reflect on the current state of the oral culture of communication today in the Caribbean. What exactly is interorality? What are its specificities? How has interorality contributed to the construction of Caribbean societies and helped distinguish them in the world? What are the new forms and new ways according to which Caribbean interorality maintains itself today at the core of Caribbean culture and identity. How is it assumed in these globalized Caribbean societies and what is its significance in these societies today?
Such a reflection will contribute to update and revive the discussion on Caribbean oral tradition in the North American academic world. It will also complement, with an innovative perspective, the important field work and scholarship that have been conducted on the topic up to the eighties.