Caribbean culture and globalization
What are some key racial tensions in modern Trinidad and Tobago? What exactly is Douglarization? What role does globalization play in a Caribbean politic of identity?
These and many other questions were addressed at Tuesday night's lecture titled: "Swimming Against the Tides: Caribbean Culture and Globalization." This lecture was sponsored by an Emerging Voices, New Directions Grant from the Ford Foundation and by the President's Office at Bowdoin.
The event hosted two discussions focusing on Indo and Afro cultural hybrids central to today's Trinidad and Tobago. Professor Shalini Puri from the University of Pittsburgh discussed the Dougla Aesthetic and its role in constructing a Trinidadian national identity that celebrates racial mixture. Her talk was titled "Indo-Caribbeans: Negotiating National Identities."
According to Puri, a dougla is an individual who has both African and Indian ancestry. She claimed that, even today, the conflict between Indo-Caribbeans and Afro-Caribbeans expresses itself both in political and economic terms, as well as ideological cultural expressions. "Social and cultural intermixing between these two groups has been historically unacceptable." She continued by quoting a song that said, "Indians and African's will not mix."
She maintained that the construction of a Dougla Aesthetic, if properly examined, can create another model for understanding "national unity," one that does is not administered from the top down by nation states. Using several song lyrics from an Indo-Caribbean genre called "Chutney"and "Soca Chutney," she explored how dougla identity is defined as a person with an African father and an Indian mother.
She discussed various racial stereotypes claiming that Indo and Afro configurations of race are shaped by the ethnic constructions of gender both in the Indo-Trinidadian and Afro-Trinidadion communities. In short, the Dougla Aesthetic, she claimed, may provide a way of making sense of race, ethnicity and national unity that is not configured solely through the binary poles of African and Indian. Quoting a song writer called Mighty Dougla, she read, illustrating both the tension lived by the dougla, as well as their hope for a racially harmonious future, "I am neither one nor the other If they are serious about sending people back for true-They got to split me in two."
Award-winning Caribbean filmmaker Mr. Robert Yao Ramesar titled his talk, "Carib-being." He showed two videos titled, The Saddhu of Couva, and Celebration. He introduced the films by claiming that, " my work is an extension of my being." Being a dougla himself, he smiled as he said that it was "a stressful job." In fact, presenting at Bowdoin meant that he missed the day of elections in Trinidad and Tobago. For him, this meant "taking a dougla vacation." "For real," he assured.
The first film featured a reading of "the Saddhu of Couva." Authored and read by poet Derick Walcott, Ramesar claimed that, "The poem is a microcosm of a larger possibility." The poem featured and old man walking in various landscapes: Large fields with tall grass and the entering of a door. Ramesar said that the poem dealt with issues of ageism, and generally speaking, an enactment of unity in the world. He mentioned that Walcott, a Creole himself, did this by "crossing into and Indo-Caribbean [and foreign] cultural space."
The next film he showed featured the shadows of a dancing woman, a Creole carnival celebration, and steel drums. It began in black and white and gradually gained color using and old lady as the pivot of this transition. He claimed that she represented a "time and space continuum; a fulcrum enacting our history and our struggle."
During the last part of the event, numerous questions were asked. Questions posed by the student/faculty audience dealt with various characters and symbols in Ramesar's films, their representations and implications. Questions also dealt with the difference between douglarization and the dougla, the former being a synonym for assimilation and the latter being an expression, as Ramesar put it, of "natural unity." He claimed, "for us, mixing is not a luxury, it is a way of survival."
Furthermore, Puri emphasized an important distinction: "Interracial sex does not mean interracial acceptance." Both Ramison and Puri focused on the dougla as a cultural representation of world harmony, struggle, and human possibility. Ramesar made his vision clear, "For real, mankind needs to chill out and come together."