Family Ties: Embodiment of Female Laborers in the Poetry of Indenture
Chapter 5 focuses on the poetry of indenture and examines the work of five contemporary authors: Guyanese poets Rajkumari Singh, Mahadai Das, and David Dabydeen; Jamaican poet Easton Lee; and Trinidadian poet Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming. Woven through their poems are images of the female ancestors who voyaged to the Caribbean under indenture, particularly images of their bodies: eyes, feet, foreheads, and wombs. For Das and Singh, who wrote in the 1970s, this focus on the body demonstrates anti-colonial, nationalistic sentiments, while for Dabydeen, Lee, and Manoo-Rahming, whose poems were published in 1988, 1998, and 2000, respectively, the emphasis on the body shows a sense of displacement. Poems written by Rajkumari Singh and Mahadai Das in the early, still hopeful days of Guyanese independence, draw attention to the colonial view of female migrants as mere bodies, useful for labor or sexual gratification, but also celebrate the fertile possibilities of the people and the land. That they do so through the metaphor of Indo-Guyanese women’s capacity for reproduction is at times problematic. In contradistinction, for authors David Dabydeen and Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming, writing in the wake of violent and dictatorial political movements in Guyana and Trinidad, the sense of hopefulness has dissipated. These authors, disillusioned by the political upheaval and autocratic regimes that followed independence, seek to reembody their ancestors as way of grounding themselves, finding a connection to the land of their birth by strengthening a sense of lineage. Tracking the images of the female laborer across decades, we thus see a move away from the often-problematic nationalist sentiments and toward a poetics of kinship.
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