Tiana Reid: Two Short Takes, Caribana: African Roots and Continuities and Omeros

Caribana: African Roots and Continuities – Race, Space and the Poetics of Moving, M. NourbeSe Philip. Poui Publications, 1996.

Toronto’s summers, its orderly heat, are peppered with the near-weekly festival, not quite a coming-together for the city’s inhabitants, but perhaps a call to revel in the “what-once-was” of a less tourist-centered cultural agenda.

Writing in what she calls the Caribbean demotic, Philip’s poem/article/short story contextualizes the contemporary festival moment—the what-once-was Caribana—to its historical and political conditions. Foregrounding the characters Totoben and Maisie, Philip, despite the physical condensation of the parade through metal fences and policing by the “beka,” calls attention to what matters: that these people are there, their moving presence, their performance of unknowable pasts. They are why and how Caribana came into existence and continue as a mode and node of diasporic actualization. For Philip, the festival’s “STOP MUSIC” sign marks the barricading of black bodies that threaten to bleed over to the civilized image that the city holds on to, Toronto the Good (230).

Movement envelops ideas of looking back, of freedom and obstruction, of being in a slave ship packed so tightly that there is no space to breathe. Still, it becomes more: “the moving of their thinking… the moving of their feelings… the moving of their loving” (209).


2. Omeros, Derek Walcott. FSG, 1990.

Rather than attempt to tackle the winding chronological plot or narrative time of Omeros, a book, an epic some say, carrying the weight of many worlds, consider here the profoundness of the opening sounds and sights. Philoctete, a wounded sailor, is entangled within an aural and visual schema of axes, cutting, scars, cracking and creaking (3-5). What is more, positioned at the very beginning is a camera, accentuating sight and its breaks. Photography for Walcott is an aggression that crystallizes the violence in certain acts of seeing and looking and moreover, a symbol of how tourism’s neo-colonialist control attempts to capture bodies. By chapter two, the aural—moaning and a kettle’s scream—and the visual—“conch-coloured dusk”—become not simply entangled but inseparable: “He saw it with his ears” (11).

How does Walcott imagine the healing of the dispossessed? How do we foretell to see, hear and feel the complexities of postcolonial life? What does the opening set up as just that, an opening up, a revelation of what’s to come? Omeros, I think, is as much about coming to know voice and image as cultural, social and historical interlocutors than about the voices and the images themselves.