(Excerpt from "Because I Cannot Crawl or Fly" by Taij Kumarie Moteelall)

I walk slowly in the wind;
I hear my footsteps, echoing down the tide,
echoing like a wave on the sand
or a wing on the wind, echoing
echoing,
a voice in the soul,
a laugh in the funny silence.
I walk slowly in the wind;
I walk , because I cannot crawl or fly.
- MartinCarter

The tradition of storytelling has played an extensive role in my life.  Stories impressed upon me throughout my life linger on, remaining with me like a life jacket, as I struggle to reclaim my cultural identity in the deep abyss of the information age.  I yearn to create my own identity in a time where my identity is so readily constructed, reconstructed and deconstructed for me by stereotypic media depictions.  I feel as if dominant media images seek to fit me into generalized boxes in which I do not belong.  However, the ability to create and communicate stories gives me the freedom to get out of confining boxes.  

Creative expressions of one’s culture and history are tools which allow for the reclamation of identity.  According to Martin Carter, identity is something that is created rather than invented or discovered and is essentially a cultural concept.[1]  Therefore, through the creative process of constructing or recalling stories which reflect culture, one also creates and proclaims her identity. 

Stories were instrumental in the cognition of my identity when I was growing up in Guyana.  I lived with my maternal grandparents who constantly created stories that provided me with a safe haven from the harshness of my personal experience and circumstances.  For instance, when I was barely one year old my life took a detour from the normal course due to the passing of my father.   In the rural East Indian village where we lived women were often housewives, while men brought home the main source of income.  My mother, who was left with two baby girls and no income, migrated to Canada to study secretarial science.  My sister and I were left in the care of my grandparents until the day of my mother’s return.  During her six-year absence from my life, I was filled up with curiosity.  Who was she?  Why did she leave?

Likewise, I conjured up hundreds of questions each time my eyes glanced upon the man in the enormous picture, hanging on the wall, always staring at me.  My grandmother, through her unique ability to tell stories, managed to familiarize me with my parents.  Through these stories I was able to go to school and tell my inquisitive, and sometimes taunting, schoolmates of my wonderful father and about the great, fantastical world where my mother lived.  Through stories, I was able to gain a sense of proximity to my parents as well as stand up against the bullies in school. This is the power of the story at its most fundamental level.  Stories enabled me to capture something that is otherwise lost. 

As I matured during my college years, I realized that stories are not only useful in the personal sense, but also in the political and historical.   For the first time, I was away from my grandmother and had to actually justify my existence to inquisitive peers on my own.  I began to delve into my history and culture in order to understand my sense of self.  This process culminated in the birth of my undergraduate thesis which sought to record the history of the Indo-Caribbean woman.  After scavenging the libraries and realizing the dearth of materials available, I found myself seeking out alternative ways to recollect the history of my female ancestors.  I conducted my own field-study and gathered oral histories: stories that revealed the past and present of Indian women in the Caribbean.  I was astounded by the wealth of information I encountered through the stories of women, young and old, living in Guyana and Trinidad.

Another significant moment in my pursuit of knowledge of my history and culture is when I encountered the poetry of Martin Carter.  I was involved in the examination of Guyana’s social and political struggle for independence.  Straight historical texts provided me with dates, issues, events and so on, but something was missing.  As I began to read Carter’s Poems of Resistance the struggle of Guyana suddenly became real.  Through his art, Carter allowed me to feel the emotions and intensity of Guyana’s independence movement.  I was held in a trance by his ability to seize the spirit of Guyana’s liberation struggle.  I suddenly found myself wanting to write my own responses to the range of emotions that were growing inside of me in my contemporary struggle.   And I did just that.  

Discovering the power of oral expression in the art of poetry, I began to sing of my own personal struggles.  Through poetry, I was able to develop a deeper understanding of my own self and convey my insight to my peers.  I was like a child learning how to walk, longing to run and dance with poetry under my feet.

[1] Martin Carter, The Question of Identity, The Edgar Mittelholzer Memorial Lectures, The West Indies Collection, University of the West Indies, Jamaica, 1971.

 

 




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