Friday, September 18, 2009

Anancy; Anancyism; ways of discovering and passing on stories

This post grew like Topsy out of a response to a comment of Geoffrey Philp's. Thanks to Geoff, my friend, Ruth Minott Egglestone, FSJL, Martin, Nalo and all the folks who listen in to our conversations...


In general: I don't think we are ever 'just writers', in all the ways that signifies! Our interests and operations can never be just as writers because it's impossible for any of us to be just that. I also worry now, in my old age, about the dangers of arrogance, my own especially.

As for the case in point: I am now, as a result of our conversation, concerned not merely with the Anancy phenomenon itself, but with the procedural example it offers, the opportunity for finding out HOW TO FIND OUT about cultural tings, especially in an oral society. So for me, there IS a problem of being right, in the sense of accurate. My particular concerns are inevitably also as an old teacher, an editor, a compiler of textbooks, one who seeks to understand the culture, and especially one who is worried by those with power and access to the means of overhauling things and serving them up differently – whether on purpose or by mistake.

Those powerful people include us, you and me, and we need to care enough about our stories, our his/tories and her/stories, our myths, our conundrums, our ring games, etc., etc., to try to pass them on intact – for there will always be changes, willy-nilly, no matter how hard we try. Ruth Egglestone, for example, was correct, meticulous, scholarly, when she told us her source for that particular understanding of Anancyism, and gave us, therefore, the opportunity of asking, “Well, who is this person? What does he know?”

The stories and understandings will come in many forms, and that multiplicity, that variety, is also precious. Some of the stories will have changed over time, and we want to know about those changes and, if possible, when and why they occurred. And contemporary writers and storytellers will themselves make changes (as you, Geoff, have done in respect of Anancy, say) and that's good, too.

But I'd like to know when and who and why changes occurred, whether by accident, and, in that case, what was the nature of the accident, or whether on purpose, and in that case, what was the nature of the purpose. That's all part of the story, the history, belonging to it in the way an etymology (Cicero calls etymology the veriloquium) enriches the significance of a word. It pleases me, for example, that we can know how the word ‘chortle’ came about, that it was a conflation of chuckle and snort, coined by Lewis Carroll in THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (1871). Knowing dat likl tory is part of my pleasure in the word.

For now, that's how I'm seeing our stories, including this Anancy one.

I do know that Anancy, before the Atlantic crossing, was Creator God, and that he survives in our Anancy Stories in a diminished state, as the Trickster-Spiderman, a version of, inter alia, the Signifying Monkey, and of the orisha variously known as Exú, Esu Eleggua, Esu Elegbara, Eshu Elegbara, Elegba, Legba, Legba-Petro, Maitre Carrefour and Eleda. (For one thing, he figures prominently in my PhD dissertation!) But I’d venture to say that Legba is NOT diminished, certainly not as Anancy is, and thereby hangs a tale in which I’m interested.

Nor have I ever thought of Anancy as weak, even in his diminished state on this side... But that’s perhaps best kept for another post, for hopefully did likl chat don't done yet. Selah!

Wayne Brown and Trevor Rhone

I wrote this to a friend today about Wayne Brown and Trevor Rhone. I know she won't mind my repeating it here. There are tributes aplenty and richly deserved in the media to them both, but I wanted to say a little about what they meant to me, these men with strong personalities and views but without malice or guile – more than can be said for most of us!

"One mourns both men mostly because one will miss them. They are, after all, trite as it may be to say so, past pain, worry and distress at this point. I felt I knew Wayne well, perhaps more than our interaction justified, but he was always warm when one did see him, most recently here for Rachel[Manley]'s launch of HORSES IN HER HAIR... I was very disappointed that the online journal didn't work out. I think it would have given him such satisfaction if it had. Trevor I have known these last 50 years, though I've not seen much of him the last two-three decades! But I was part of the original Theatre 77 group, and we have always liked each other well, and I have always admired how absolutely confident he was from the beginning that he would make a big difference to theatre in Jamaica.

(I'm listening to an interview bet. Peter Nazareth and Wayne at
as I write...)"

The excerpt from my e-mail ends here, but Brown-Nazareth interview connects nicely with a piece by Nicholas Laughlin in CRB's blog from a while back which celebrates crônicas, Wayne among them.

An excerpt:’s occurred to me that some of the most interesting work by contemporary Trinidadian writers does not come in conventional fictional or poetic forms at all, but rather in the form of fragmentary, discontinuous, first-person non-fiction narratives in the periodical press — i.e., newspaper columns — which we may have some difficulty identifying as “literary” — or even identifying as “narratives” — because of the format of their publication. I’d certainly include... Wayne Brown’s “In Our Time” columns, which began appearing in the Trinidad Guardian in 1984, moved around from one Trinidadian newspaper to another, and now appear in Jamaica, where Brown has settled, in the Observer. (Many of these columns — with their supple, acrobatic prose that can swoop from high to low, exalted to demotic, in a single paragraph — were collected in The Child of the Sea in 1989 and Landscape with Heron in 2000, where Brown describes them as “stories and remembrances”; it’s clear he’s thought of these pieces as literary from the start.)

Rest in peace, bredren. We all of us would be happy to have lived lives as worthwhile and as fulfilling as yours.

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?