Tue | Nov 20, 2018

For the Reckord | Concerns and comfort from the EMC about C’bean folk tales

Published:Friday | April 13, 2018 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
Paula Daley speaking on Jamaican folk tales.
Mother (Donnai Black) with her family at her feet.
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Paula Daley didn't meet Bro Anansi until 'very late' in her life. Instead of Anansi stories and other Jamaican folk tales, the adults in her household read to her European tales, mostly stories by the Grimm brothers.

With regret in her voice, Daley told me, "I was one of those individuals colonised by European stories." She was particularly aggrieved, because she loved art from she was in prep school - largely because of the 'phenomenally attractive' illustrations in the European story books - but when she looked for similar illustrations for Caribbean stories, there were comparatively few books with any.

Now, as an artist, educator and Director of Studies at the Edna Manley College's School of the Visual Arts, she is fighting back. She is encouraging a few past and present students to read and illustrate Jamaican/

Caribbean folk tales and working on her Ph.D. thesis on the subject. Daley revealed this recently, at one of the weekly seminars organised by the Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of the West Indies, for students in the Cultural Studies programme. The public is invited to the seminars, which are held on Thursday afternoons in the N4 lecture room in the Faculty of Humanities and Education.

Daley has found that contemporary students seem to know more about American and Japanese folk stories than about indigenous Caribbean ones, so she is examining the impact of globalisation on our folk tales. That includes their commercial use by companies like Disney and their re appropriation for the creation of new Caribbean folk tales and iconography.

"Will contemporary culture and technology dramatically alter the context, content and economic currency of traditional Caribbean folk tales?" Daley asks in her research. Speaking to The Gleaner, she added, "I'm encouraging this generation to focus on our stories, and not be as divorced from them as I was."

 

Ti-Jean and His Brothers

 

Happily, just metres from the School of Drama, is a production that should provide Daley with quite a bit of comfort about the current artistic climate in the Caribbean. Written by a St Lucian (Derek Walcott), directed by a Guyanese (Eugene Williams), with an Antiguan (Jaycie Lewis) in a leading role, and featuring several talented Jamaican actors and actresses, 'Ti-Jean and His Brothers' is a production any country would be proud of.

Three of Lewis' relatives (mother, sister and uncle) who flew to Jamaica to see her in the play over last weekend, were definitely proud of her performance. I watched their enthusiastic reactions as they sat in front of me on Saturday night.

But Lewis, who played three roles - an old man, Papa Bois, Planter and Devil, - was only one of many excellent actors. Others were Donnai Black (Mother), Shernett Swearine-Gullotta (Ti-Jean), Donahue Lattibeaudiere (Gros-Jean), Duvaughn Burke (Mi-Jean) and Tifani Fagan (Frog). In general, the acting was good.

Daley should be pleased that the story was (in the director's words), "drawn from a simple folk tale", though its structure is decidedly European - three brothers leave home, one by one, to face challenges in the world; the first two fail, the youngest succeeds.

 

Better life

 

Williams summarises the story as being about a "mother and siblings, who are ensnared into a battle of wits with the devil in their pursuit of a better life. In this battle, rage/anger, empty intellectualism and physical pride (as exhibited by the elder brothers) loses, while humility, cunning/guile and native practicality (shown by the youngest brother, Ti-Jean) wins ... at least for now. Walcott suggests, and the Caribbean experience proves, that liberation is an ongoing process."

As the drama school showed with its March production of Omaall Wright's Belly Woman, an imaginative team can elevate and transform a simple story. That team - primarily director and co-set designer Williams, producer Pierre Lemaire, choreographer Neila Ebanks, co-set designer and costume designer Bryony Kummer-Seddon, and lighting designer John DaCosta (assisted by Nadia Roxburgh and Aisa Robinson) - working with an energetic, talented cast, has staged an aurally and visually wonderful show.

Playing in the Dennis Scott Studio Theatre until Sunday, it suggests that Caribbean folk tales are alive and kicking - on stage, even if not in books.