Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is Anancyism the philosophy of taking serious ting make joke?

In note ten of a paper entitled "Anancyism in Jamaican Pantomime," scholar Ruth Minott Egglestone says:

"Anancyism is significantly more than a pattern of anti-social behaviour... it is a philosophy which enables an individual to laugh in the midst of adversity and thereby survive."

Dr Egglestone credits Carlos de la Motta of Kingston, Jamaica with this explanation, and it is the one about which I was curious. We all agree that Anancy is a survivor and his ingenuity is the means by which he survives, often in the face of great adversity. But mightn't we be undoing Anancyism when we regard it as a philosophy, with all that that implies, when we contain it, package it, give it the pretended respectability of attitude, proceeding presumably from a principle, of determinedly standing up to the oppressor and laughing defiantly in his face?

That seems so serious, whereas the essence of Anancyism, from another perspective, is the absolute avoidance of any such seriousness. Instead, Anancyism is a modus operandi, a stylee, a mode of profiling as cording to which, by means of wiles, ruses and general trickify, Anansi approaches every bad situation as an opportunity for wukking him brain and gaining advantage, often unfair advantage, over not just his opponents, but pretty much anyone in his way, ef him is in dat kinda mood. In other words, Anancyism is indeed a pattern of behaviour, though I wouldn't necessarily call it anti-social since it's often directed against downpressors who would therefore not be part of a social group to which our Sneaky Spider could reasonably be asked or be considered obliged to show allegiance.

The other thing about Anancy is of course that he is not to be tied down - and so, perhaps, certainly not to anything so predictable as a philosophy? He is a man of surprises with something forever new up his sleeve. No Cogito ergo sum for him. He doesn't think to be. Rather Cogito ergo ago. He works his brain, and then he acts, and by his willful, whimsical, me-no-care behaviour, his dedication to rambunctiousness, he not only succeeds in being, he thrives at it.

They mystics tell us that in rare moments of pure being, moments of awe, we touch eternity and glimpse God. Perhaps that is what Anancy is after? Working his way back to his original role of Creator Deity, in which all his thought was action, and all his action was creating, and every act of creation was an occasion for laughter?

32 comments:

http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/ said...

Pam, Anancy/Eleggua is the first orisha that is invoked before any ceremony can begin.

that's another of the "half that's never been told."

FSJL said...

My philosophy teacher at UWI, Wilvin Wiggins, decried the habit of using "philosophy" when we mean to say "strategy."

Ruth's an old friend of mine (they pop up everywhere), and I would take what she says seriously. At the same time, I'd want to say that anansiism is a lot more than a means of shrugging off misfortune.

It seems to me that the approach of taking advantage of situations that we call anansiism is a complex thing, covering not only strategic behaviour designed to ensure survival in tricky times, but also the kind of dog-eat-dog dishonesty and treachery that has led to suspiciousness becoming a significant element of Jamaican (and, I think, the broader Caribbean/West Indian) working class character. Certainly, we can blame our quondam colonial masters for having fostered the conditions that permit samfie to flourish, but the coloniser's been absent for a little while now, an is not bukra who a tief whole estate nowadays.

Anansiism, like any other approach to permanent hard times has many sides. Some of them, including cheerfulness and humour in the face of adversity, are positive. Nor are they unique to us (we share them, certainly, with our fellow colonials (and kinsfolk), the Irish. But the kind of trickery that is used to ease burdens can easily slide into something darker. Sometimes it does. It is not a big jump from an Anansi figure like Bustamante to a far more troubling one like Seaga.

To take a non-Jamaican, but still West Indian example, it is possible for a trickster figure to evolve into something far more sinister: consider the career of Eric Gairy.

FSJL said...

Completely unrelated: I see that both Trevor Rhone and Wayne Brown have died.

http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/ said...

Winkler in Trust the Darkness writes about the inadequate picture we have of what it means to be a Caribbean man...

Too frequently, we have unhealthy pictures/images of what it means to be a man...this is why Obama is such a welcome figure in Black life: baller, dad, bicyclist, wonk.

We have not fully xplored the dimensions of Caribbean life and our own lives, so we have caricatures of Caribbean life masquerading as the real thing.

I don't know how we will break out of the cycle because many of the media in Jamaica and our educators have bowed to outside agendas (Foucault, et al discussion).

We have stopped creating for ourselves, discussing ourselves...
but you know this--preaching to the choir.

1Love

clarabella said...

Geoff: Hold down, likl bit. Hold down! :)

clarabella said...

Geoff: Meaning, not stop, but please memba ole people haffi go likl slower!

clarabella said...

FSJL: Ruth's a very old friend of mine (saw her and Phil and Matthew not so long ago in TO) and someone whose work on theatre in JA and panto is very important indeed. Nor did the definition I quoted represent all she had to say about Anancy by any manner or means. Anancyism as you say, and as she says and knows and demonstrates, has many sides. It's just that the idea of ANANCYISM being the 'take serious ting make laugh' PHILOSOPHY (as different from, say, Anancyism as laughing at trouble because you well know you can trickify your way out of it, which is a STRATEGY) was new to me. An then, as I said in the last set of comments, there is the issue of Anancy as treacherous. Was the Spider always so? The idea of Gairy as a 'trickster' for example, is one I have difficulty with. Surely he was not ever, ever, merely that? Isn't there a continuum: mislead, trick, deceive, con, carry down, defraud... and so on? They're probably not in the right order, but... Do we 'drag' (can't think of le mot juste) Anancy across the whole spectrum, till he becomes the Gairy Monster?

clarabella said...

Geoff: Leaving aside the orishas for the moment – are you saying that Anancy is a prototype of Caribbean MAN? (Unhappily, I've not read TRUST THE DARKNESS.) I've never thought of him so, I guess: I suppose I've always felt a woman could be an Anancy too. Could you also help us by relating him more precisely (maybe via some examples) to the "caricatures of Caribbean life masquerading as the real thing"? And yes, I agree. We are certainly in danger of ceasing to create for ourselves... You mention using Anancy in a certain way in your stories. That needs to happen. That's why panto has been and is important. We develop Anancy there, as Ruth shows, and it's a development that should be ongoing. True, I've heard it said that there are people in Jamaica now working in the genre created by Miss Lou who are better than she is. I am sure Hutchinson, Blackwood-Meeks et al are superb at their art, and Binta Breeze and others elsewhere. As for the 'better than', I don't share that opinion, in part because I still don't think, never mind people have written about her, that we properly appreciate what it is that Louise did. Those coming after her are necessarily doing something different, in part because they don't need to carry the burden she had to bear. But in the same way that Claude M and Una M. began a tradition that Louise considerably amplified and 'legitimized', which embraces later creators in the genre, the Anancy Chronicles should be regarded as a legacy, and so gathered, set down, examined, and then enriched by further tales involving inevitably new versions/dubs of Anancy. Or am I just babbling here?

FSJL said...

No, Pam, Gairy wasn't always nor merely a trickster. But that was part of his repertoire as a leader. Am important part, since he had to do two things in order to achieve credibility: reestablish himself in his homeland after having been away in the Netherlands Antilles, and present himself as someone with real "backative" when he was starting with nothing but the hope that the landowners would listen to him. That required trickery and theatre back in the early 1950s.

By the time Morris Cargill met him, when he was MP for Grenada in the Federal Parliament, he had turned into a political whore, trying to sell his vote to the highest bidder. After the Federation failed, the British found his leadership of Grenada so corrupt that they had no choice but to boot him from office for corruption. Yet he was able to get himself elected to office again, and to create his own private army, with the results we know.

http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/ said...

Pam, the self-i/mage of most Jamaican men is somewhere between Anancy (Trickster) and Xango (lover/ warrior) archetypes.

For a brief moment, we had the Positive Ruler/Sage in Manley (father & son), but that time is now gone.

The only ones that we trust and recognize are Anancy and Xango, and that is why our culture suffers because we cannot see the fullness of ourselves.

We are ready to give FULL diplomatic privileges to Usain-yes, he's the fastest man in the world--but what about a poet, such as Mervyn Morris, who has lived and worked in the Caribbean for all his life?

We need to broaden the vision of ourselves to include creators and seekers, and not track warriors (Xangos).

FSJL said...

Geoff: A bit over two decades ago, I did a little lobbying (and I mean just a little) to see if state honours might be given to John Hearne (who was then on the outs with both the JLP and PNP). I was told that the Musgrave Medal existed for that purpose. I thought that was short-sighted (especially since V.S. Reid and Louise Bennett had been given public honours).

clarabella said...

FSJL: I confess I was thinking of the later Gairy, the "political whore," as you put it. By that time, he had turned into a strange and monstrous creature - he might have been off his head for all we know. And he still has a following in Grenada, which must mean something. You say: "...[to convince landowners he was someone with backative"] required trickery and theatre back in the early 1950s." That returns us to Anancy, and his ways, and the conditions of the time. Have self-government and Independence changed those conditions? Has Anansi altered with the times? I remain curious about why and when we began to ascribe duplicitous behaviour used for the purposes of treachery, self-aggrandisement, etc., to the Spinner of Tales and Outer of Forest Fires. Or was it always so? Funny that other traditions have a god bringing down fire from the deities, whereas the lore about Anansi has him putting out fires...

http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/ said...

Pam, I think it's how you use the strategy to big up yourself/ and others or to put down yourself and others.
As I type this I am reminded of some of the trickery that Bob used. It was only when he was near his transition that he took a picture with Chris Blackwell because he never wanted Chris, as a white man, to be associated with the Wailers.

He did some other Anancy t'ings... but we won't talk about them here.

clarabella said...

Geoff: There's lots of people who would take you to task about Michael Manley as a Positive Ruler/Sage, though none would gainsay Norman's claim to that status. I shall have to think about whether, as you say, "the self-i/mage of most Jamaican men is somewhere between Anancy (Trickster) and Xango (lover/ warrior) archetypes." There's maybe far too much of Xango, though he isn't an unqualified presence. There's the story of the woman government servant, a lady of middle age and yellow of skin, who looked out of her window and saw a ganja don's enormous vehicle blocking the driveway into the ministry, and so causing traffic mayhem. She took off down the stairs to confront the driver, never mind that people were telling her, in fearful tones, about who the vehicle belonged to. Encountering the don downstairs, she gave him a piece of her mind, appropriately decorated with the choicest expletives. He looked abashed and apologized sheepishly, observing before turning to go move the vehicle, "You put me in mind of me modda." As Carl Stone once said on a program on UWI radio, "We in the Caribbean keep forgetting that it is women who raise our boy children..." And thereby hangs another, different, very long tale. As for Anansi, I continue as confused as ever. Maybe there's a book to be had out of examining dance hall lyrics for their Xango and Anansi implications?

clarabella said...

FSJL: Now why did you take that upon yourself? (BTW, it's a serious question.) As for the Musgrave Medals, John, as I'm sure you know, had got a Silver in 1964. And I see, from Verene Shepherd's article in the recent JAMAICA JOURNAL, that there's a feeling among many that Jamaica ought to dispose of the said award. So perhaps it's just as well, given all the pertinent variables...

clarabella said...

Geoff: I neglected to say something about Usain. Mervyn you will know has recently had the OM, so he has been recognized for his contribution, as is right and just. But I have nothing against Usain being utterly celebrated. It's the times, and how a person is measured in them, and the values that DO prevail, never mind we may not approve. And, I am told, over the few days when we were strutting our stuff at the Olympics, the crime rate in JA fell. If Bolt & Co can accomplish that, we should make them statues, sing songs about them, put them in the history books and learn whatever lessons there are to learned from all of it.

http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/ said...

Pam, I would never speak for Jamaican women.

A lot of the raising of boys is done by women, but what happens when the boy turns sixteen and is in the world of men?

I'm not saying we shouldn't celebrate the accomplishments of our track warriors, it's the emphasis vis-a-vis the other areas of achievement.

clarabella said...

Geoff: I don't know why you wouldn't speak for women? That's the magic question that you ask, of course. What does happen when the young man begins to function in the world of men, and how has the absence or intermittent presence of men, affected the growing up male person? How have the attitudes to say, male sexuality, as interpreted by women, shaped the young male mind as it matures? These are things you have been concerned with in your stories, so I don't know why you wouldn't talk for women! And I know that we are, as often, agreed, and that it's a question of whether the poet-teacher is more important than the athlete-celebrity. I'm just saying that we gotta live in the world we live in, and if the athlete-celebrity is a role that our young men find more readily appeals to them, more possible/likely in the real world they live in, then so be it. Yevtushenko could fill a Russian stadium with 40,000 people. Well, hopefully, one day, one day, that will happen in JA, and I look forward to it. Of course, Bob has done that, and he's a poet! Maybe we need to start talking about him in those terms more. Which brings me to your prior comments about Bob being an Anancy when he was ready. Why wouldn't Bob have wanted Chris to be associated with the Wailers? His puppa was a wite man, after all, and his baby modda, Cindy B. as well? Jus a question of PR? Not offending the following? I dunno if dat is Anansiism. Also, please explain your comment, "I think it's how you use the strategy to big up yourself/ and others or to put down yourself and others." Not sure I get exactly what you mean... 1luv

http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/ said...

Pam,we need to broaden out the opportunities and how we represent them. For example, there's a whole food chain in publishing that many young people who love literature, but who are not writers. How widespread is that knowledge?

My definition of Anansiism is any strategy that involves deception or the purposeful manipulation of an appearance to achieve a desired end.

Bob did not want to give the impression to the followers like the white man, Blackwell, was the genius behind the Wailers.

"I'm just saying that we gotta live in the world we live in, and if the athlete-celebrity is a role that our young men find more readily appeals to them, more possible/likely in the real world they live in, then so be it."
That is what I want to change.

FSJL said...

Pam: Serious questions deserve serious answers. I was in a position at the time where I had access to someone who had a great deal of influence (and who still does). John was my teacher and mentor, and, above all, my friend. I was also a lot younger, and brasher than I am now.

I believed, and I still believe, that the state needs to honour its creative citizens as much as the ones whose names are on the front pages of the newspapers and being bruited loudly on radio, television, and the internet. There is no reason why Petrona Morrison, Honor Ford-Smith, Dawn Scott, Horane Smith*, Geoff, Anthony Winkler, Albert Chong, or yourself to name but a few should not be adorned with post-nominal letters indicating that the Jamaican state has deemed you worthy of honour.


* A man who used to ride the same school bus as myself, I am compelled to note.

FSJL said...

By the early 70s it is pretty clear that Gairy was no longer occupying the same realm of reason as most people. Power had definitely gone to his head. At a minimum, the Revo asserted the outcome of the 1976 elections, albeit forcefully, which is why it was welcomed by the people of Grenada.

Certainly, there are still Gairyites in Grenada. Gail and I met one when we were there in 2004. A gentleman who delivered himself of rather strong opinions relating to the political prisoners held in Richmond Hill. He also took us to a shop that specialised in spices, where the proprietor tried to tell me about allspice of all things. I was amused, for all of 30 seconds.

http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com/ said...

Wow, I leave for 1/2 a day and so much happened!

clarabella said...

Geoff: I share your desire "to broaden out the opportunities and how we present them". More on that later. As for the food chain related to publishing – are you referring to jobs like editing, book design, etc.? Because, if so, the folks feeding off that chain do not get very fat and often end up very frustrated! I can't take issue with your definition of Anansiism, though, as i have just said to FSJL, I think it wrongs the Original Spider, a son of god, mediator between god and humans, teller of parables – to wit, a Christ figure in many ways! And as for putting forward Usain and his fellow athletes, contemporary and down through the ages, as role models, I've no problem with that at all. They have all had to be disciplined, hard-working, goal-setting, self-controlled, modest persons. Add to that, in Usain's case, the exuberance of youth, a sense of humour, the disposition not to take himself too seriously, and he's very much a person of the times, and the best sort of person! I'd just as soon young people see the possibility of becoming a scientist or a sculptor or a writer or a chef as readily as that of athlete, but we have to begin where we are. I learned that early in my Dip. Ed. program. Start with students where they are, in the situation (no books, leaky roof, mice in the lunchroom) in which they find themselves. So we share the same goals, but if Usain can motivate the young folks more readily than Mervyn Morris, all I can say is that I'd rather it be him than Beenie Man, Bounty Killah, Elephant Man or Buju Banton! 1luv

clarabella said...

FSJL: I admire what you did in attempting to get John Hearne honoured. John was an interesting man, a complicated kind of Jamaican. Certainly he deserves to be honoured, but Jamaican honours are odd things. Take Rachel Manley, for instance. I can't think why she hasn't had a Musgrave Medal. As for being one of a list of persons deserving hounours, thanks for the vote of confidence. I appreciate it. The honours business is fraught, though. Even here in Canada, where there are many more people than there are in Jamaica, there is constant comment about whose writing gets awards, whose work is neglected and what the reasons might be. I'm not talking about the black community either – this is across the board, having to do with Canada's big writing prizes. All it means is that one needs to write or to draw or paint because that is what one is called to do, and that is what makes one happy. Besides, we're in apocalyptic times, and if that don't "focus the mind wonderfully," as my spouse is fond of saying, nothing will! If there's still room for me to write a story and get it published when there are so many people using bread banks in this very city, then I am privileged indeed.

clarabella said...

FSJL: Yes, the story of the recent political history of Grenada won't ever, I think, be completely, honestly, exhaustively told. Perhaps it can't ever be. There were personal experiences of the invasion related at a recent conference here in TO, which I found heartbreaking (Dionne Brand, Merle Collins inter alia) but I still have only a bunch of stories to set against the 'facts' of the invasion, and the shootings and the subsequent arrests, etc., etc. I have friends who barely escaped with their lives (they snuck out of the country by boat) because the husband made bold to call Gairy a crazy man – itself a mad thing to do! And I continue to be amazed at how our judgments of events is affected by our personal relationships to the persons involved. It's why the notion of memes now preoccupies me. Somewhere along the way, murder-for-purpose has become hard-wired into the Caribbean person/community, and I, of the Rhygin generation, cannot take it in. Well, you must now come acrass as a 'farriner' (Gail I guess didn't help...), so dat de man figa im affe heducate yu habout hallspice. What did you do after the 30 seconds had passed?

clarabella said...

Geoff: What to tell you, Mass Geoffrey? Sometimes time shorter dan rope! Keh-keh. Anansi laugh. 1luv

FSJL said...

A state that can honour Louise Bennett, Vic Reid, Cecil Baugh, and Roger Mais (posthumously), can surely get around to honouring John Hearne. As you say, he was an interesting kind of Jamaican. The problems were that he was too prickly for either set of politicians (and, frankly, I think Michael should have had the largeness of spirit to honour his former friend; he did try to reach out to Liz after John died, but Liz was having none of it) and also, by the time of his death, he was the wrong colour. A ginger-haired man with pink skin in a country that was redefining itself as inherently black could be as Jamaican as St Elizabeth red dirt but still be seen as alien.

FSJL said...

After the 30 seconds passed? I spoke about living for seven years on a farm in Jamaica where we grew allspice. (I could have said that the smell of allspice can trigger some rather unpleasant memories, some of them associated with tales of the Spanish Civil War, but I didn't.) All those summers of picking pimento had to be good for something.

As for being a farriner. In June 2003 I was in Bluefields, Nicaragua. A dread living in the town observed to me "Yu love to talk Creole." I replied, "I do'n talk Creole, I chat di Patwa." "Patwa? Yu fram Haiti?" "Jamaica." "Rahtid! Mi Granfaada cum fram Sint Elizabet!"

clarabella said...

FSJL: The wrong colour... Ah me. Poor John. Still, from generation to generation, these things sort themselves out. By the end of the millenium, chances are the world will all be brown and that will, once and for all, put pay to that. Course, we are good to find some other basis upon which to assign privilege – but I forget! Jesus would have come and we will all be the best of ourselves that we can be. I'm betting I know what you're going to say to that... Let's see if I'm right!

clarabella said...

FSJL: Tell us the story of the allspice memories evoked by the smell of allspice, do. Is a certificated dread you was a deal wit, man. Creole? Patwa mean say you come from Haiti? Cho! My people you see... Jes neva hunderestimate dem! BTW, was he separating St Elizabeth from Jamaica like the tourist who said she had been to Montego, but not to Jamaica?

FSJL said...

Oh, no Pam. He knew St Elizabeth was part of Jamaica. There's a strong historical connection between the "Atlantic" coast of Nicaragua and Jamaica. Half the population is named Cuthbert and the other half is named Bent (the Bents are distantly related to Colin Powell, and more distantly related to me). One of the people we met was named (much to Trevor's amusement) Turner.

FSJL said...

One of the things we had to do was clean the pimento of leaves and twigs before bagging it. Because we had a big house, we stored the pimento indoors, in a room with little ventilation. In consequence, I associate the smell of pimento with the frequent (sometimes crippling) headaches I had as a teen.

There are some other associations, but I'd prefer not to discuss them now.