The Half Has Never Been Told : Revisioning West Indian History in Myal

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1 The Half Has Never Been Told : Revisioning West Indian History in Myal MICHELENE ADAMS Quintessentially post-colonial in its thematic concerns and in its narrative approach, Erna Brodber s novel Myal (1988) uncovers what it means to West Indians that the half has never been told (34). Although it has a variety of subtle implications, this cryptic line that becomes a refrain in the text refers principally to the fact that the histories of the colonised were buried during the process of colonisation. The work is set in rural Jamaica in the second decade of the twentieth century. Blacks have been emancipated for half a century, but the impact of colonisation and slavery is still pervasive. Nevertheless, Brodber portrays this period through a post-colonial lens 1 so that colonialist conceptions of West Indian history are, literally, subverted. The verb to subvert grows out of the Latin for to turn, and here, Brodber addresses the destructive standard representations of the region and turns them around through her revisioning of history and through her semantic games. Myal proposes feasible alternative readings of education, religion and spirituality, race and ethnicity. The result is that the destructive standard representations of the region are defused, and installed in their place are West Indian histories that are expanded by half, providing points from which to move forward positively.

2 The Half Has Never Been Told 161 Brodber s principal target is the colonial education system. The official view of education in the empire--that it was a serious responsibility, a part of the colonisers obligation to their charges--has been negated in post-colonial discourse, which has described education as a massive cannon in the artillery of Empire (Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin 1995, 425). The metaphor that Myal presents, however, suggests that education served the exact opposite function than expected. Brodber reverses the notion of colonisers filling West Indians with knowledge and replaces it with the image of colonisers actually emptying or zombifying them. The current view is that in recording history and in creating literature, the West ignored or misrepresented colonials. However, Brodber takes this idea further by fully exploring the notion of zombification: through colonial education West Indians were made into zombies, their minds emptied and their spirits stolen. Homi Bhabha has argued that the discovery of the book installs the sign of appropriate representation: the word of God, truth, art creates the conditions for a beginning, a practice of history and narrative ( Signs 147). When imperialist texts are accepted by colonials, they become the models for their own narratives. Thus, while they are being educated within the imperial system, their identities are erased. In the article An Other Realism: Erna Brodber s Myal, Shalini Puri reminds readers of how Blacks in the West Indies in particular were affected since the colonialist book comes complete with a denial of African world views, a contorted history, a British literary canon that serves colonialism, and a brand of literature concocted specially for consumption in the colonies (100). All of these elements combine to empty West Indians of their own spirits and even to co-opt them into working as agents in the colonialist project. Puri s article focuses on how Brodber s bi-racial protagonist Ella develops from unconscious quiescence to the colonialist text, through complicity with the text, and recognition that the half has not been told, to resistance to the text (99). Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

3 162 MICHELENE ADAMS The first phase occurs when Ella is a school girl, admired for her abilitiy to recite British poetry. Helen Tiffin targets the act of recitation as an especially insidious method used by the education system. She argues that [t]hrough recitation... the colonised absorbed into their bodies ( hearts ) the tongue of the coloniser. Recitation is a ritual act of obedience in which the local body was erased not just by script and performance, but by the necessary assumption on the part of both audience and performer that speakers and listeners were themselves English ( Cold ). As Bhabha explains, the imperialist has a desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite (Location 86). Nevertheless, he insists that to be Anglicized is emphatically not to be English (Location 87). Through mimicry, colonials may grow to resemble their colonisers, but they are unlikely to be accepted as anything but good colonials. Thus, they are left without an identity. Ella s engagement with the poem indicates how she, specifically, has been erased. The child believes that in reciting well, [a]ll she was doing... was to open her mouth and let what was already in her heart and her head come out (Myal 12). Cut off from her people in the rural village of Grove Town because she is half-white, she has no real sense of her Jamaican identity, so she is absorbed by Europe as it is presented in the text. Diana Brydon and Helen Tiffin have claimed that: [t]o the European and his book belongs the power of the gaze and the right of perspective. And the result of that authoritative gaze is colonial self-perception as deviant from the European norm. The colonial does not read the text; the text reads/constructs her. The book, then, for the colonised, is supreme being, creator and arbiter. (106) Brodber shows how Ella s schooling drains her of a sense of her Jamaican roots, and the gift of education is revealed as a ruse. Journal of West Indian Literature

4 The Half Has Never Been Told 163 When Ella is married to the opportunistic American Selwyn Langley, who wants to get into the fledgling motion picture business, 1 he listens to his wife s tales of home and sees in her exotic accounts a gold mine of material for the stage. He creates a coon show (Myal 80), entitling it Caribbean Days and Nights. Puri identifies this as the second phase of Ella s journey in relation to the text: she unwittingly participates in the creation of a written work that exaggerates stereotypical images of the Caribbean to such a degree that the region is portrayed as unnatural and implausible (Myal 83): The black of their skins shone on stage, relieved only by the white of their eyes and the white of the chalk around their mouths. Everybody s hair was in plaits and stood on end and everybody s clothes were the strips of cloth she had told him Ole African wore. (83) Here, rather than erasing the local body (Tiffin 913), the new American coloniser recruits his quarry into the neo-colonialist enterprise, in which the prime motivators are power and money. 2 In the text that Langley writes, Ella is the blond heroine--a frightened victim of her pitch black neighbours. Thus, even in the United States, the Manichean construct exists. As different as Ella is from Selwyn ethnically and culturally, because she is his wife, he can only conceive of her as opposite to the definitive black Other that he represents in his production. Shocked at the inaccuracy of his portrayal, Ella O Grady Langley looks within herself for the first time and discovers barrenness: she is empty; she is a zombie, and her desire to be filled and to be productive propels her into severe mental illness. She must return to Grove Town for healing. Myal teaches that the first step towards healing is to recognise zombification for what it is. It also proposes the means of reversing its impact that involves subverting the text itself so that it may be co-opted as a tool in the colonial s own enterprise. Thus, Ella embarks on what Puri sees as the third stage of the journey with the text. Having been cured by Mass Cyrus, the community herbalist, Ella re-enters the Grove Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

5 164 MICHELENE ADAMS Town world in a more active role. A primary school teacher, she is in a position that gives her a measure of control. As an educator, she is the Empire s deputy, but she is capable of serving as a double agent (Puri 110). The story of Mr. Joe s farm in the school primer carries an obvious allegory: the benevolent farmer represents the coloniser, and the animals that must learn to be grateful to their master are the colonial subjects. 3 Encoded in the allegory is a warning from the Empire: remain docile or suffer the consequences. With her newfound sensitivity to the phenomenon of zombification, Ella is aware that the word plays a central role in draining colonials of their essence, and, with Reverend Simpson s guidance, she discovers that the key lies in how one approaches the text. As a teacher she must adhere to the curriculum, but she can teach subversively to ensure that her pupils do not accept spirit thievery as a given. Ella s journey provides the central storyline, but it is punctuated by a running mental dialogue that takes place between a group of higher souls, who also participate in the two main plots. Five individuals from the parish form a spiritually enlightened consortium. They have travelled together through many incarnations, during one of which they were animals on Mr. Joe s farm, and it is their animal identities that serve as their code names. 4 During one of their telepathic dialogues, Willie the pig (Ole African) talks enigmatically to Dan the dog (Reverend Simpson) about the Empire s strategies: Them tacky ships have dropped their sails and turned to steam; have dropped their ships and turned to books (67). The conquistadors ocean vessels signalled the onset of European dominance in the New World, but with time it was the book, supreme being, creator and arbiter (Brydon and Tiffin 106), that not only came to signify conquest but served to maintain the balance of power. Brodber insists that far from filling untutored minds, colonial education operated as an emptying agent, but she also demonstrates how the balance of power might be tipped through subversive strategies. The choice of setting itself is key in Myal. The work is set in the parish of St Thomas, both in the village of Grove Town and nearby Morant Journal of West Indian Literature

6 The Half Has Never Been Told 165 Bay. Because of the latter, Myal is burdened with the weight of a violent moment in Caribbean history; however, Brodber displaces the burden by presenting Morant Bay in an unaccustomed light. Jan Rogozinski details the unfolding of events in A Brief History of the Caribbean (194-96). In 1865, the conviction of a young Jamaican in Morant Bay triggered a chain of events that resulted in an all-out rebellion of Blacks against the law. Several Whites were beaten and killed, causing panic, especially because it recalled the violence against Whites that erupted in Haiti after the slaves had won their freedom and declared independence. Thus, the Governor instituted martial law and additional troops were sent from Kingston. This, however, involved murdering Blacks without question and executing two popular figures: Paul Bogle, a black Baptist preacher, and George William Gordon, the mixed race member of the Jamaican assembly who had been an outspoken advocate of the rights of Blacks. The Morant Bay rebellion left a particularly ugly stain on the official chronicles since it had brought chaos, violence, and large scale killing back to a society that was supposedly progressing away from the harsh inhumanity of slavery. 5 For black Jamaicans it involved betrayal by some of their own, 6 the injustice of physical assault on the innocent as well as the rebels, and the legitimising of the actions of those with power through the system they had put in place to serve themselves. The annals have marked the uprising at Morant Bay as one of the most violent in the region in the post-emancipation period. However, Kamau Brathwaite has challenged the conventional representation of Morant Bay in The African Presence in Caribbean Literature. He believes that although the uprising was a militant political movement (37), it grew out of spiritual conviction. He points to the fact that during this period myalism, a form of African-rooted spirituality, was resurfacing and was being widely practised by Blacks. Thus, Brathwaite argues that as leaders of the Baptist and Black Baptist churches, Gordon s and Bogle s motivation for insurgence was deeper than the liberal/reformist creole concern with justice and land (37). Brathwaite points out that there are references to Bogle s followers Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

7 166 MICHELENE ADAMS preparing for the rebellion in the manner of myalists. He proposes, therefore, that a radical Afro-Myal movement underlay the uprising (37). Brodber s representation of Morant Bay and its environs reflects Brathwaite s theory. She challenges the conventional historical view of mindless violence by positing the alternative of conscious spiritual defiance. One way in which Brodber tempers the negativity associated with Morant Bay in the chronicles is by juxtaposing it with the neighbouring Grove Town. 7 This small village is less developed than Morant Bay, and, apparently, some see it as backward. Nevertheless, Maydene Brassington, the British wife of the Jamaican Methodist Minister, is drawn to it. She is glad for a reason to visit and to make connections with the villagers. On the other hand, despite his wife s urging, Reverend Brassington avoids the village though it is a part of his parish. His excuse is that he would need a sledge hammer to move Grove Town (Myal 15), but his wife believes that he is crippled by the fear of going back to the Grove Town of his past (Myal 19). The implication is that with time Morant Bay has taken to colonisation where Grove Town has not. The backward village is associated with African traditions and resistance to colonisation or progress. Two major instances establish that many of the villagers live by the numinous. One instance involves the central character, Ella O Grady. When the mysterious grey mass forms inside her, the villagers know that this is no normal illness; it is the manifestation of the poisons with which foreigners have filled her, and as the community herbalist Mass Cyrus discerns, it has to be expelled by spiritual means. Although Ella is targeted first by the colonial education system and later by the American exploiter she marries, Brodber makes clear that colonisation of the mind and the spirit might be practised by anyone with power. It is not only outsiders who attempt to control Jamaicans, and in all cases spirituality is a weapon by which they might defend themselves. The promising young Grove Town student, Anita, is the target of a local deacon who uses obeah to attempt to capture her Journal of West Indian Literature

8 The Half Has Never Been Told 167 youth and vitality since his is waning. Mass Levi sends a rain of stones upon her house and sexually molests her in partly human form while she tries to sleep. The village is in turmoil as a result, but two people bring the community together to protect her and to rid Grove Town of the evil. Ole African (Willie the pig), one of the higher souls, dwells away from the community, and the townspeople have been hearing about him for centuries (Myal 88). He is described as necromancer and arch punisher (Myal 88). When he appears on Anita s doorstep one night during a storm of stones and leaves the message that [t]he half has never been told (Myal 34), it is a sign that the community must act. Miss Gatha (Mother Hen), another member of the enlightened group and the leader of a Revivalist congregation, 8 understands the message. When the time is right, she faces Mass Levi, counteracting his evil with a cut and clear session that leads to his death. In fact Brodber describes Ole African s message as having saved Mass Levi since it is to his soul s benefit that he dies and can no longer harm his community. Brodber takes the loaded figure of Morant Bay from the standard histories and reconfigures it; the sense of failure and of tragedy that it has generally borne in the texts is displaced here, futile violent resistance exchanged for productive resistance through spiritual means. What emerges from the cooperation of various factions of the community in counteracting evil is essentially what Africans termed myal. 9 The half has never been told about myal for centuries. The first written description of the religion is in Edward Long s History of Jamaica (1774). 10 The Creole owner of slaves paints the myalists as execrable wretches who, by using an herb with anaesthetic properties, fooled the unsuspecting into believing that induction into their society would make them invulnerable to white men (qtd. in Cassidy and LePage 313). Over a hundred years later, the reputation of myal among Whites had not improved. In two nineteenth-century memoirs, myal men are called imposters (Clutterbuck qtd. in Cassidy and LePage 314), and its practitioners are said to have fearful paroxysms, bordering on Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

9 168 MICHELENE ADAMS insanity during what are described as their orgies (Waddell qtd. in Cassidy and LePage 313). Although many black people were drawn into the folds of Christian churches that vied for their souls, there were also a great number who held fast to their African-rooted spirituality, and that is what Brodber establishes here through her vision of a community that fights evil through traditional spiritual means. It is not surprising that ancient beliefs and practices survived the crossing and were adapted for the New World. Brathwaite has argued that spirituality is at the centre of traditional African culture ( African Presence ), and Monica Schuler contends that religious institutions constituted the basis of a functional African counterculture in a system dominated by Europeans (Alas 32 [italics added]). She also claims that myalism was the core of that counterculture and that after emancipation, it guaranteed that none of the evils of the postslavery period would be accepted passively, but would be fought ritually and publicly (Alas 44). Myalism is the first documented Jamaican religion cast in the classical African mold (Schuler, Myalism 66). Initially, it was to protect themselves from what was seen as European sorcery that slaves from various African groups came together in the 1760s to form this religious society (Schuler, Myalism 66). Schuler argues that since cooperation among different African peoples was unprecedented, Myalism may actually have fostered pan-african cooperation where once only ethnic division had existed ( Myalism 67). The religion became even more syncretic when, within fifty years of its appearance, it began incorporating Christian elements into its beliefs and practices. Thus, the word myal signifies some of the most crucial defining factors of West Indian society: Creolisation, struggle, and survival. The fight against black magic and obeah practised with an evil intent was one of myalism s main aims from its earliest days, and, according to Joseph M. Murphy, obeah remains a target for contemporary African- Jamaican churches. When the higher souls rally against Mass Levi who has used obeah against Anita, we witness myal at work. Levi s evil is Journal of West Indian Literature

10 The Half Has Never Been Told 169 strong enough to draw Ole African from his refuge in the bush to stand like a Christ figure in Anita s doorway and be stoned until his blood sprinkles the steps. 11 Agatha Paisley also involves her congregation in the battle against evil. The Revivalists, with Miss Gatha at the helm, engage in a ritual that requires the temporary transfer of souls between the afflicted girl and the elderly woman. 12 This is another instance of Brodber subverting the negative because juxtaposed against the instance of Mass Levi tormenting Anita through supernatural means to achieve his own ends is the instance of Miss Gatha selflessly taking on the girl s burden in a supernatural ritual. Murphy explains that although myal and obeah are related--obeah practitioners were able to use their abilities to heal as myal doctors did, and myal men were able to detect obeah that was practised with evil intent--there is a fundamental difference between the two. Because the black arts are practised in private, usually for the benefit of the individual, they reflect the disintegrative forces of a society under stress (Murphy 120). Conversely, myal, which represents a reassertion by the community of its authority over the legitimate and illegitimate uses of invisible power, is society-oriented (Murphy 120). In fact, over time, the significance of the word myal has broadened so that it might be described as the consciousness developed in community ceremony (Murphy 144). Ole African and Miss Gatha possess this myal consciousness and, acting on behalf of the community, engage in public rituals to fight Mass Levi s onslaught. Colonialist texts grouped various forms of African religious expression together indiscriminately, dismissing them all as empty and fetishistic, signs of the backwardness of Blacks, but Brodber portrays myal as an important expression of spirituality and as a force that can bind a community together for the common good. Interestingly, as well as targeting black magic, myalists have counted slavery and colonialist practices generally as evils they are obliged to battle. Schuler contends that myalism, like other African-Jamaican religious traditions, posits a world in which, under ideal Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

11 170 MICHELENE ADAMS circumstances, good prevails absolutely and exclusively ( Myalism 65). Myalists will not accept as natural dissension, poverty, corruption, illness, failure, oppression ( Myalism 66). Some of the organised insurrections by Blacks during slavery and after emancipation can be traced to this religious society. Edward Long connects the use of myal herbs, and the communities formed to administer them, with the great slave rebellion of 1760 (Murphy 121), and the Baptist War of was actually instigated by myalists (Schuler, Myalism 68). Brodber extends the myal metaphor, though, by pitting African-rooted spirituality against Western politics. Colonialism and imperialism are extractive and, in many ways, predatory systems that benefit one group at the expense of the other. They might be viewed, therefore, as forms of obeah. Here again is a clear reversal of colonialist thought. Just as evil done through obeah is often visible in the body of the victim, the evil done to Ella by two colonisers manifests itself physically as a grey mass that causes her body to swell. As with Anita, it is myal that provides the cure. According to Schuler s definition, Mass Cyrus (Percy the Chick), who is consulted by the Brassingtons, is a myal man: The Myal organization provided specialists--doctors--trained to identify the spirit causing the problem, exorcise it, and prevent a recurrence. All problems, including bodily illnesses, were thought to stem from spiritual sources and required the performance of appropriate ritual ( Myalism 67). As a Myalist would, Cyrus identifies Ella s physical symptoms as a manifestation of the spiritual emptiness of this little cat choked on foreign (Myal 4). 13 As a Myalist would, he does battle through ritual against the forces that have severed Ella s link to her people and to her self. Although Miss Gatha, Ole African, and Mass Cyrus can be identified as myalists, Brodber handles the metaphor so that the processes and levels of myal-ing in this text are legion and work in concentric and interlocking circles (Nelson-McDermott 60). All in the novel who recognise the negative and participate in its dissipation for the good of their society are, in effect, invoking the spirit of myal. The myal community of Grove Town and Morant Bay grows steadily as the Journal of West Indian Literature

12 The Half Has Never Been Told 171 action progresses, drawing into its fold such unlikely participants as Maydene Brassington, the English wife of the Methodist parson; Ella, who has been infused with a sense of her true spirit through myal; and Reverend Brassington himself, who begins to doubt the right of his ministry to exorcise and replace an African-derived way of seeing with a European one (Myal 18). While recovering this fragment of West Indian history, Brodber legitimises African-rooted spirituality in the region. She challenges the established Western view of myal, views based largely on fear of black power, and she installs it as the central trope in the text, endowing it with metaphorical weight, particularly for the descendants of Africans. 14 Another concern in the novel is the phenomenon of miscegenation and its product, hybridity. As the child of Mary Riley, a dark skinned Jamaican, and O Grady, the Irish policeman assigned to the village, Ella herself is the hybrid product of miscegenation. Colonial discourse shows that the general feeling about unions between Whites and Blacks was that [i]t would be considered an indeniable stain in the character of a white man to enter into a matrimonial bondage with one of them; he would be despised in the community and excluded from all society on that account (Moreton in Brathwaite, Development 177). 15 The products of such unions were described as mulattos, the word, with its relationship to the hybrid mule, indicating the attitude towards the mixing of the two groups. Maydene Brassington expresses concern about Ella s racial make-up and Reverend Simpson is obviously uncomfortable with and perhaps even scornful of Ella s bi-racial status. The village as a whole, including her peers, has marginalised her as a result. Recent theorising around the idea of hybridity has recast it in a more positive light. 16 In fact, Shalini Puri suggests that Myal includes an affirmation of the productive powers of hybridity (105). Despite these positive perceptions of hybridity, however, Robert Young cannot dismiss the connotation the term had in the colonial period. He explains that in the British Empire Both [language and sex] produced Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

13 172 MICHELENE ADAMS what were regarded as hybrid forms (Creole, pidgin and miscegenated children), which were seen to embody threatening forms of perversion and degeneration and became the basis for endless metaphoric extension in the racial discourse of social commentary (Colonial 5). 17 Thus, it might be argued that when we use the term today, although it has come to suggest an organic process of the grafting of diversity into singularity, it also carries its original negative Victorian connotations (Young 10). The prinicipal character in Myal is the product of miscegenation, and the temporal setting is one in which the Empire s racist notions are prevalent. Nevertheless, Brodber re-imagines the terms miscegenation and hybrid, and through one of her brilliant semantic techniques, she displaces the burden that they have borne by installing the related syncretism in a central position. Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin contend that syncretism is a word that has positive connotations in post-colonial discourse, sometimes being deliberately chosen over the more problematic hybridity (Key Concepts 229). Syncretism involves the coming together of disparate elements, so it essentially signifies unification or reconciliation. It is never mentioned in Myal, but it underlies the narrative, and helps to reconfigure the standard picture of history. The motif of distinct elements merging unexpectedly is prominent. 18 The English Maydene embraces difference. Her marriage to a mulatto Jamaican is a testament to her openness, and she does not shy away from the people. Her initial visit to a Grove Town villager attracts attention, but when they leave the house together, onlookers are surprised because a white woman and a black woman walking together quietly and comfortably like equals was news (Myal 24). Maydene s openness is also evident in her taking Ella into her home: the girl is mulatto like her husband, but she belongs to the underclass. Similarly, before Maydene is reminded of her affiliation with the other enlightened souls, she feels a connection with Miss Gatha, although the elderly woman is the leader of an African-Christian sect and is from Grove Town. Shalini Puri considers the significance of the English woman s membership in the group of higher souls who have been linked for Journal of West Indian Literature

14 The Half Has Never Been Told 173 centuries. She thinks it is fundamental to Myal s anti-essentialist politics that Maydene Brassington have a role on par with that of the others in the community of resistance (114). Catherine Nelson-McDermott also comments on the character s crucial role in the community and in the text. She believes that the myal-ing that happens in this text actually effects an extraordinary co-optive move which alters the positionality of the whites in the Morant Bay community, making it possible for them not to be colonizers. They are enabled to become community members without the community absorbing white (colonizing) values (61). In other words, the inclusion of the middle class, white, British woman among a group of Blacks in the first decade of the twentieth century suggests hope for West Indian communities open to syncretism. Although Maydene is an especially uncommon factor in the group of higher souls, the group itself embodies difference. They have all been animals on Mr. Joe s farm, but they are very distinct individuals with bonds of various strengths with Europe and with Africa. The two African traditionalists who live on the outskirts of society-- Percy the chick (Mass Cyrus) and Willie the pig (Ole African)--have been linked for centuries to Dan the dog (Reverend Simpson), a soul who in this incarnation leads a Christian church with ties to Britain. During one of the group s telepathic sessions, the gaps between the members in terms of class are glaring when the women are described as taking time off, Maydene from cleaning her silver and Miss Gatha from hoe-ing her field to participate (Myal 99). In spite of their differences they are all willing to come together because they share a faith in community. Brodber sets her story in a period when restrictive social structures based on the divisions bred by slavery and colonialism were being cemented, yet she insists on focusing on what occurs in a community when individuals refuse to remain in their designated spaces and choose instead to merge with various Others. The enlightened in Myal are generally accepting of difference, for they recognise that [t]here are so many paths (71). Even the adamant William Brassington, whose mission as a Christian minister is to exorcise and replace the African Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

15 174 MICHELENE ADAMS survivals to which the folk cling (18), learns to be more accomodating through his brush with myal. Situated between Morant Bay and Grove Town is the Cross Roads, which local travellers regularly pass; it is an emblem of the intersection that must occur for the community to thrive. Brodber s vision is inclusive. In fact, as Puri has observed, Myal belongs to that tradition of Caribbean writing that claims a future which neither imitates Europe nor longs for Africa, but draws its energies instead from the historically syncretic reality of the Caribbean (105). In this narrative, Brodber rewrites a moment in West Indian history, inscribing the hope that syncretism carries, over the horror that the English patriarch injected into the text with his vision of the evil of miscegenation. Helen Tiffin has argued that the rereading and rewriting of the European historical and fictional record are more than just an option for post-colonial writers; rather they are vital and inescapable tasks ( Counter-Discourse 18). The Empire s delineation of its own agenda and of West Indian history is erroneous, and Brodber addresses this violation by focusing on some of the most fundamental misrepresentations, then systematically subverting and inverting them. ENDNOTES 1 The work is set in the second decade of the 20 th century in the adjacent districts of Grove Town and Morant Bay. The latter made its mark on the island s history in the 1860s, and the major issues of the Morant Bay episode--colonialist oppression and the defiance it engenders--lie at the heart of Myal, but Brodber situates them fifty years later and examines them under a post-colonial lens. Brodber s manipulation of temporal setting is reminiscent of Rhys s in Wide Sargasso Sea, where the modification of historical chronology is one of the fundamental means of dismantling the underpinnings of an English classic. Journal of West Indian Literature

16 The Half Has Never Been Told In addition to representing North American materialism, the motion picture appears in post-colonial writing as a metaphor for the capture and control of subjectivity. When they are the object of the camera s gaze, colonials are portrayed as the alien viewer wishes. Michelle Cliff s No Telephone to Heaven (1987) features a movie that attempts to capture the life of Caribbean locals. In that novel, set in Jamaica where the natives will do anything for a buck (202), a group of guerillas hiding out in Cockpit Country attempt to stage an act of insurgence upon an American movie company filming an epic romance that appropriates Jamaican history and myth, but they are gunned down by government forces. 3 In establishing a global capitalist economy and becoming a super power (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin, Key Concepts 163), the United States has practised what amounts to neo-colonialism, as is evident not simply in the U.S. s political and economic policies, but also in its influence on culture internationally. 4 Tiffin ( Decolonization 32) and Walker-Johnson ( Text 52) both mention that the story of Mr. Joe s Farm actually was in the primer on the Jamaican curriculum for a period. 5 A few critics have commented on their use of farm names: Catherine Nelson-McDermott speculates that since in the West African tradition clans are associated with certain beasts, Brodber is celebrating the African totemic tradition (64); Tiffin argues in Decolonization and Audience that in casting animals as characters, Brodber is responding to the spirit thievery that resulted in animal fables being accredited to a European source when they were actually African in origin; and Puri proposes that because the higher souls appear in the main plots and in the primer, Brodber locates a text within the text so that the entire narrative of Myal disrupts the allegory; the novel as a whole enacts the alternative ending to the allegory, one in which they do not return to work for Mr. Joe, but go to work for their collective liberation (111). 6 In addition, the Morant Bay uprising captured the attention of the Empire, dividing the British intelligentsia on the question of whether Governor Eyre was justified in responding as harshly as he did to the rebels. Eric Williams notes in From Columbus to Castro that respected Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

17 176 MICHELENE ADAMS writers such as Thomas Carlyle, Lord Tennyson, Ruskin, Charles Dickens and Charles Kingsley defended the Governor. 7 Maroons were recruited by the British and were instrumental in controlling the rebels. See Rogoziński The title Grove Town is evocative since it binds the implication of progress and the urban in town with the botanical image of the grove. Grove also suggests seclusion and, by extension, turning inward, which is fitting since Brodber s reconfiguration of history involves acknowledging the inner lives, the spirituality of West Indians. 9 Critics have mentioned Kumina or Pocomania in relation to Miss Gatha, but no one has specifically named Revivalism. It seems most likely that she is a member in high standing in the Revival church. She fits the description of the Wheeling Mother or the highest crowned shepherdess, the most respected female in the congregation (Simpson ). Revivalism is a syncretic religious movement that blends Christian and African elements. Ceremonies involve the invocation of the Revival spirits, which include their chief energizing spirit --the Holy Ghost, as well as the archangels, the prophets and the disciples (Simpson 163). However, in the tradition of African ancestor worship, the forebears of the Revivalists and their leaders who have died might also descend to dance among the living. The terminology used to refer to Miss Gatha s practices can be attributed to Revivalism. She is the leader at a tabernacle, the term used among this congregation. Cutting and clearing which is mentioned in Myal is the way in which Revivalists describe the exorcism of evil spirits (Simpson 185). Miss Gatha s incantation, nine times three is twenty-seven, three times three times three, probably derives from this church s acknowledgment that three is the number of the Holy Trinity. Thus, on the twenty-seventh of the month, the day she chooses to attack Mass Levi, the greatest good would, presumably, be on Miss Gatha s side. 10 Myal is derived from the Hausa maye which could mean sorcerer, wizard, intoxication, or return (Cassidy and LePage 313). The relation between the first three words is obvious, and there is an implied link between them and the fourth. The belief system and the public rituals of myalism would have reinfused the souls of slaves hungry for Africa, Journal of West Indian Literature

18 The Half Has Never Been Told 177 returned their energy to them. In practising this religion, they could go back to the motherland, and, in turn, Africa came back to them. 11 In this very text Long argues that blacks are more closely related to primates than to whites. 12 The only sign that the apparition was actual is the shut-pan the necromancer leaves behind. It is this item that links Ole African to myal since that figure is said to carry a shut pan or sheppon to catch ghosts (Cassidy and LePage 408). 13 Carolyn Cooper contends that Spirit possession, that ecstatic moment of displacement central to the religious practices of Africans in the diaspora, literally embodies the transmission of cultural values across the Middle Passage ( Something 64). Puri equates zombification with spirit possession, and argues that while spirit possession functions in the text as a figure for domination, it also doubles as a figure for the survival of disallowed African-derived cultural practices. She continues, Spirit possession in the novel thus represents not only domination and theft but also the possibility of connection with the half that has not been told: ancestral beliefs, oral traditions, religions, and healing practices (101). 14 Brodber s use of corporeal metaphors for colonialism s ills and resistance against them seems especially appropriate when we consider that slavery was focused on the body, valuing humans only for their capacity for labour and for producing offspring. 15 Interestingly, a word similar to myal occurs in the language of Aboriginal Australians. The OED defines a myall as an Aboriginal who has not come under the influence of white civilization. The metaphorical significance of the Jamaican word myal -- a medium for resistance--is thus evoked in this context as well. 16 J.B. Moreton published Manners and Customs of the West India Islands in Mikhail Bakhtin conceived of double-voiced discourse as a kind of linguistic hybridity and believed it could be either an organic amalgamation of unlike languages and viewpoints or a means of intentionally setting unlike languages and viewpoints against each other to create conflict and to undermine authoritative discourse. Bhabha, applying Bakhtin s ideas of linguistic hybridity to the Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

19 178 MICHELENE ADAMS colonial context, argues that hybridisation is produced in the elliptical in-between, where the shadow of the other falls upon the self (Location 60). In other words, in their interaction, particularly linguistic interaction, distinct cultures will inevitably influence each other and hybridity will result. 18 Veronica Marie Gregg explains that Pater incertus est and a concern with illegitimacy, as these are embodied in the mulatto figure, are central themes in the discourses of the white plantocracy of the West Indies. The major themes are racial contamination and economic threat. These are often figured as the loose sexual behaviour of white men, which is a function of the innate promiscuity of black women, and the general animality of the black Other (109). Gregg quotes Lowell Joseph Ragatz who suggests that miscegenation was one of the factors at the heart of the collapse of the West Indian plantation economy. 19 Puri considers references in the text that suggest the permeation of borders. She recalls Brodber s description of the place midway between sleep and wake, the state between consciousness and unconsciousness (104) and draws attention to the appeal of dusk for Maydene Brassington. All of these references underscore the idea of syncretism. WORKS CITED Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge, Print. ---, eds. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London: Routledge, Print. Bakhtin, Mikhail. Discourse in the Novel. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, Print. Bhabha, Homi K. Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, Print. Journal of West Indian Literature

20 The Half Has Never Been Told Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority under a Tree Outside Delhi, May Critical Inquiry 12 (Autumn 1985): Print. Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. The African Presence in Caribbean Literature. Bim vol 17 no 65 (June 1979): Print. ---.The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, Oxford: Clarendon, Print. Brodber, Erna. Myal. London: New Beacon, Print. Brydon, Diana, and Helen Tiffin. Decolonising Fictions. Sydney: Dangaroo, Print. Cassidy, F. G., and R. B. LePage, eds. Dictionary of Jamaican English. London: Cambridge University Press, Print. Cliff, Michelle. No Telephone to Heaven New York: Plume, Print. Cooper, Carolyn. Something Ancestral Recaptured : Spirit Possession as Trope in Selected Feminist Fictions of the African Diaspora. Motherlands: Black Women s Writing From Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia Ed. Susheila Nasta, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, Print. Gregg, Veronica Marie. Jean Rhys s Historical Imagination: Reading and Writing the Creole. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, Print. Murphy, Joseph M. Working the Spirit: Ceremonies of the African Diaspora. Boston: Beacon, Print. Nelson-McDermott, Catherine. Myal-ing Criticism: Beyond Colonizing Dialectics. ARIEL 24.4 (Oct. 1993): Print. Puri, Shalini. An Other Realism: Erna Brodber s Myal. ARIEL 24.3 (Jul. 1993): Print. Rogonzinski, Jan. A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and the Carib to the Present. New York: Meridian, Print. Schuler, Monica. Alas, Alas, Kongo : A Social History of Indentured African Immigration into Jamaica, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, Print Myalism and the African Religious Tradition in Jamaica. Africa and the Caribbean: The Legacies of a Link. Ed. Margaret E. Crahan Volume 18 Number 2 April 2010

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