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Two Plays by Ina Césaire: Mémoires d'Isles and L'enfant des Passages

  • Bridget Jones

In any consideration of theatre in the French Caribbean, the name Césaire is bound to be mentioned. Aimé Césaire's La Tragédie du roi Christophe (1963) is the most widely- known play in French by a black dramatist, and is now even in the repertoire of the Comédie-Française, and his plays figure widely in checklists of ‘African’ theatre. A revealing contrast can be made between the epic dramas of Aimé Césaire, written for an international audience, especially the newly independent black nations of the 1960s, and the work of his daughter, Ina. He tackles from the standpoint of Négritude major themes of historical drama: the nature of sovereignty, the forging of nationhood; he storms the heights of tragic poetry in French. She is attentive, not to the lonely hero constructing his Haitian Citadel of rock, but to the Creole voices of the grassroots. She brings to the stage the lives of ordinary women, the lore and legends that sustained the slaves and their descendants. Her achievement should of course be assessed away from her father's shadow, but the ‘divergent orientation of the two generations’ also suggests the greater confidence today in the role of Creole language and oral literature, and in a serious theatre within Martinique.

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1. Selected as the first play in the ‘Lectoguide-francophonie’ collection: Régis Antoine. (Paris: Bordas, 1984). Among sources on Aimé Césaire as dramatist: Harris, Rodney. L'Humanisme dans le théâtre d'Aimé Césaire. (Sherbrooke: Naaman, 1973).Laville, Pierre. Les Voies de la criation théâtrale, Volume Two. (Paris: CNRS, 1970).M'Bom, Clément. Le Théâtre d'Aimé Césaire. Paris: Nathan, 1979; Césaire 70. Eds. Ngal, M. et Steins, M. (Paris: Silex, 1985) has an annotated bilbiography.

2. See for example Chévrier, Jacques. Littérature nègre. Paris: Armand Colin, 1984.Waters, Harold. ‘Black French Theatre of the 80s’. Theatre Research International 9. 3 (10 1984): 195215 and Théâtre Noir (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1988).

3. Arnold, A. James. Modernism and Negritude. Harvard University Press, 1981, p. 306.

4. Editions Caribéennes, 1989.

5. The title echoes the terms of the 1942 article by Césaire, Aimé and Ménil, René: ‘Introduction au folklore martiniquais’. Tropiques 4 (janvier 1942), available in a ré-édition by J. M. Place, 1978.

6. Views expressed during an interview which Ina Césaire graciously gave, Paris, 3 August 1988, and for which I wish to record my appreciation.

7. Laurent, Joëlle & Césaire, Ina. Contes de mart et de vie aux Antilles. Paris: Nubia, 1976. A dramatisation ‘Et Cric … Et Crac’ from this collection, directed by Benjamin Jules-Rosette, was in the repertoire of the Paris-based Théâtre Noir (1981).

8. Cf. Arianne Mnouchkine with Penchenat, Jean-Claude. ‘L'Aventure du Théâtre du Soleil’. Preuves 7, 1971, and Travail Théâtral, passim. The production of 1789 played at the Fort-de-France festival, and includes a sequence on the liberation of the slaves.

9. Every reader of Cahier d'un retour au pays natal remembers the pounding Singer sewing machine.

10. Phrase from a Sistren workshop scenario, Carib 4 (Kingston: West Indian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, 1986), p. 74.

11. I wish to express my gratitude to Myrrha Donzenac for her help, which included allowing me to read the acting script, and to Mariann Matheus for discussions.

12. See for example the preferences expressed when advertising for marriage partners (‘Les chabines ont la cote’. Antilla 297 (22 juillet 1988) p. 25.

13. Contes de mort et de vie aux Antilles, p. 214 ff. The story also appears in Espace Créole 3, 1978, with two theoretical discussions; ‘Proposition pour une analyse du conte antillais: L'analyse séquentielle’ and ‘L'idéologie de la débrouillardise dans les contes antillais: Analyse de deux personnages-clé du conte de veillée aux Antilles de colonisation française’. See also the comparative notes and text of a parallel Bambara tale in, Notre Librairie 73 (janvier-mars 1984), pp. 7785, and ‘La triade humaine dans le conte antillais’, Présence africaine 121/122 (ier/ze trimestre 1982), pp. 142153. Clearly this Ti-Jean tale has a very special appeal for Ina Césaire.

14. Schwarz-Bart, Simone's novel Ti-Jean L'horizon (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1979) develops a haunting vision of Guadeloupe deprived of sunlight, and works to dignify and elaborate material from Caribbean folklore with reference to African legend. See Toureh, FantaL'lmaginaire dans I'oeuvre de Simone Schwarz-Bart, Paris: L'Harmattan, 1986.

15. Programmes for the Centre Martiniquais d'Animation Culturel (CMAC), financed by French funds, and for the municipal SERMAC, both show much activity in folk theatre for children, for example a ‘Ti-Jean L'Horizon’ puppet play for schools by Roland Brival's group Boua Boua (CMAC) bulletin 28 (avril-juillet 1981) p. 4.

16. See Görög, V., Seydou, C. et al. Histoires d'enfants terribles (Afrique noire) (Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1980) especially the concluding summary, where African sources for key episodes in the Caribbean tales are clearly set out (pp. 243–4.)

17. See Chamoiseau, Patrick, ‘Ti-Jean en psychanalyse’, and Medeuf, Serge, ‘Ti-Jean dans notre Horizon’, Antilla, 251 (23 juillet 1987), pp. 2224.

18. Ina Césaire engaged in polemic in the 1970s to defend folktales against charges of transmitting a reactionary ideology. Some remarks by L'Homme Immortel (p. 73) appear to refer to this debate.

19. A tentative parallel might be drawn with the political compromises of the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais.

20. See introduction by Hill, Errol, Plays for Today (London: Longman Caribbean Writers, 1985), and references given by Mervyn Morris in King, Bruce ed., West Indian Literature, (London: Macmillan, 1979), p. 236. My paper ‘Ti-Jean and other Brothers’, given to the 1989 conference of the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, offers a more detailed comparative analysis of Walcott's play.

21. Walcott, Derek, ‘What the Twilight Says: An Overture’ in Dream on Monkey Mountain and other plays, (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970), p. 17.

22. The phrase was used by Raphaël Confiant at the launching of two plays in Creole by Georges Mauvois, published by the Presses Universitaires Créoles, and is exemplified by the attitudes of Daniel Boukman seeking renewed credibility after his long exile (‘Jou Jou tala’ Europe 612 (avril 1980) p. 128 ff.) The ‘stratégies langagières’ of Patrick Chamoiseau are also very pertinent to this issue.

23. ‘The folk heritage enacted, raised to consciousness, transformed into a cultural force …’ Le Discours antillais, (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1981), p. 397.

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
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