LiTTscapes: Moray House Trust in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture and the Theatre Guild and in association with Trinidadian Dr Kris Rampersaud yesterday presented “LiTTribute 11 – LiTTurgy to the Mainland” with readings and performances inspired by Rampersaud’s book LiTTscapes – Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago. The coffee-table style book contains photos and writings from T&T. In photo: Rampersaud (right) hands over a copy of her book to UG’s Al Creighton. It will be available in the University of Guyana library. (Photo by Arian Browne)http://www.stabroeknews.com/2013/media/photos/02/16/moray-house/
LiTTscapes – Landscapes of Fiction From Trinidad and Tobago
Moray House Trust, Georgetown, Guyana
February 15, 2013
Mistress of Ceremonies: Paloma Mohammed and longtime friend; Professor Al Creighton: Acting Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana and Head of the Guyana Prise for Literature; Distinguished guests all, Friends
Students of the Guyana Theatre Guild – brilliant, brilliant interpretation of the introduction to LiTTscapes.
I salute you, thank you for making the work your own, because that is what it was meant to be – to be claimed and owned and rendered by the generations next and those to come.
If I might begin by drawing attention to the title of this event – a LiTTribute – first of all – a title with which I took obvious authorial licence – as a combination of a literary tribute that has Trinidad and Tobago at its centre and which also celebrates other creative disciplines of music, song, dance, art and architecture, fashion and cuisine.
A confession – this is really not just the second such – if one were to count the launch of LiTTscapes itself during the jubilee of Independence month in August last year which set the tone for the LiTTribute (To the Republic) – hosted by Trinidad and Tobago’s First Lady in celebration of the 36thanniversary of Trinidad and Tobago’s Republican status. That in itself was followed by the inaugural LiTTour – which is literary journeys evoking tribute to the landscapes of fiction from Trinidad and Tobago and took on a life of its own – as on that fateful journey we stumbled upon the defaced tombs of some of the earliest European settlers in South Trinidad – a French family shipwrecked enroute from Martinque to Venezuela in the mid 17th century.
Yep – that is our Caribbean story. Inescapably, our stories are tied up and entangled and intermingled with each other’s and that goes back into our prehistory.
As now, the unfolding story of LiTTscapes – post-publication – unfolds with these LiTTributes, the LiTTours, but also the expanding knowledge that will be reflected in the next publication on my table – Letters to Lizzie – an engagement with Queen Elizabeth in the context of her 60th jubilee celebrations and our 50thanniversary of Independence (the celebration of which I have found particularly problematic to identify with – given that my whole orientation, the whole vision and world view of LiTTscapes is that we ought not to be defining our age in terms of the time of recent self governance but as the sum total of all our history and experiences; the sum total of all the peoples who came and those whom they met there; and the yet nebulous truth of from whence they came and how our islands and this our continent began).
What the story of these LiTTributes unfolds, is that it is clearer and clearer that as islands, we are not just islands. We are part of that continent at the beginning of the world, as Lawrence Scott in his novel, featured in LiTTscapes articulates.
So it brings me to beginnings. I have never been able to contemplate the history of my islands as the isolated story of Independence or colonialisation or even migration, not the recent migrations that brought most of us here, nor even the prehistoric ones.
I have poured over maps and drew the invisible line that connects South American rivers and topography with our islands; and looked at biological studies of our flora and fauna and geological and anthropological and archeological reports, and even without that, know, there are primordial linkages which we have been taught to forget.
Within the whole context of debates and discussions about globalisation are those other debates and discussions – those on globe-forming – in which we have not really seen ourselves, but in which our writers – our writers of fiction position us.
A couple months ago when an anaconda crawled up the Caroni River, Trinidad’s attention was jerked awake to the realities of such primordial connections to the ecology of South America. It is part of our knowledge we have buried somewhere in the dark recesses of our heads.
Until about four years ago, I had never been to Guyana – the land just a stone’s throw away – and then only for a day so all I saw was the route to the airport and back, and immediately it recreated for me the landscape around the Gangetic plains from which some of our ancestors originated.
Last year I was back and this time for a couple more days and saw a little more, something of what lay behind the mystique of the Demerara River.
This time around, my third tryst here, I braved the potholed roads and on a return boat that is a little more than canoe more and ventured further into what Joseph Conrad might call the heart of darkness.
For me, it was the heart of light; the niggling inside my head that is getting more insistent of late as I research and get ready to release Letters to Lizzie (that is if I can get the time and headspace to finish writing it!); the niggling that there is so much more beyond our immediate geographic space; beyond the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean that washes upon us that we often view as waters that divide us but which to me contain our shared experiences and heritage and cultures.
But I have not had only three visits to Guyana – so as our master calypsonian would say, I lied! You see I had already visited Guyana a hundred times through my imagination, through research and through the stories and poems of your authors like Wilson Harris, Roy Heath, Edgar Mittelholtzer, Jan Carew and Martin Carter. (And Al Creighton in his comrephensive and incisive and generous review mentioned Raleigh and Ian MacDonald whom we share along with Lakshmi Seetaram-Persaud who is married to a Guyanese Al – they do not belong to Guyana alone (and there is only one Derek Walcott citation in LiTTscapes that refers to St Lucia, the other citations are all based on his comments on Trinidad).
Even before last week when I went to the native people’s habitats in Berbice, I had already sailed with Wilson Harris’ Donne hundreds of times to the Palace of the Peacock a conqueror and captor; and participated in the density of history and the condensation of time he saw, as a surveyor, mirrored in the Guyana hinterland that he has been able to infuse in his novels;
I had numerous hilarious private moments laughing at Lizzie, through John Agard’s mashing up the Queen’s English – so now she had to take note and made him the UK’s poet laureate – hats off and congrats!
And I had, with Martin Carter and Walter Rodney danced on the walls of prison and shared an insistent that although a prison, it was my wall and hence mines to cry or dance on. And that is why I requested the Dance interpretation of Martin Carter’s poem The Knife of Dawn. And I have never seized to marvel at this one, written in 1927 with the lines “We who are sweepers of an ancient sky; discoverers of new planet, sudden stars… “ Yes, you heard me, written in 1927, before space travel, before mega thrusts to the moon” Our writers have been our visionaries though we have remained blind to the enormous possibilities and potentials of ourselves that they have been presenting us with.
So that’s why I asked and was immediately granted my wish for a dance interpretation of Carter’s poem which will be done by the Guyana National School of Dance – thank you for that, Paloma, for so readily agreeing without even knowing what a tremendous source of inspiration that poem has been in its notes of defiance, of empowerment, of envisioning – and which still is to me in all of what I try to do!
That item will close tonight’s LiTTribute: and indeed the LiTTurgy to the Mainland: thought they may think they may be paying tribute to LiTT scapes, the work before us today; it is also my tribute to a source of inspiration and which I present to those who follow and hope they to will take what might have seemed to be a ridiculous and petulant decision to make my dance right here; to remain in the Caribbean and continue the exploration of the nuts and bolts that make it this place we love so well and so love to hate as well. And that despite the tremendous force that is constantly in operation to insist that there is a better world out there to make someone of ourselves – forcing and pushing our young people out to discover new planets and sudden stars elsewhere – not the ones hanging over their heads.
It is this kind of reawakening that I am hoping of LiTTscapes and its ambitions and intentions – what I called at its launch last year a revolution – a revolution in reading! A revolution to re-envisioning ourselves; at how we look at our world in the first and foremost instance, and how we look at the rest of the world and our place in it – as centres, not on the periphery – as sweepers of an ancient sky; not as offsprings in a new world; and as DISCOVERERS – of new planets and sudden star; not stargazers.
That is our challenge: to lift ourselves above and beyond the self derision and self negation we have been hinged.
What brought me to Guyana this time was my own exploratory urge.
LiTTscapes, I hope is a stimulant to curiosity – to be curious about ourselves in the first instance, our immediate locale and to discover and explore and rediscover ourselves and those around us an those who have been exploring and discovering those around us – our writers – who have probed and can stimulate us to probe deeper, beneath ourselves – to move beyond the self-derision and self deprecation and the discover our ugliness too, and too, our beauty.
That’s what I found in the Guyana hinterland this week – what I began to find as I traced the imaginary line that connects us – island and continent.
This is a LiTTurgy – a praise song: to all those who came before, and on whose enormous shoulders we stand and are dwarfed.
I thank you for this opportunity.
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