We are not at the end of history!

“Beauty humbles and impassions the poet”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The St. Martiner Lasana Mwanza Sekou (1959-) wrote for many years about his own life and experience and the critical path for the future of his people, the Caribbean nation, with engaging poems, monologues, short stories and critical essays. Last year House of Nehesi Publishers published an extensive study of his groundbreaking work and ideas. Pro. Howard Fergus, a Montserrat literary critic, wrote the study, entitled Love Labor Liberation in Lasana Sekou. Ñapa had an exclusive interview with Sekou, a Caribbean man and citizen of the world with a difficult, but clear and poignant message. (The original Dutch version of this editor’s note and the interview appeared in the Ñapasupplement of theAmigoe newspaper in Curacao, May 2008; and at Amigoe.com on 10 May 2008.)

Interview by Hans Vaders

ÑAPA: Many people on Curaçao and Aruba do not know your work. Is this perhaps because you publish your works in English?

LMS: Language could be a factor, but given the St. Martiner’s multilingual aptitude, functionally, language should be seen more as a challenge to overcome or engage positively. Not as an obstacle. Writers, artists, cultural and educational institutions, media, publishers, libraries, bookstores should do more, proactively, to network, translate and distribute our literatures and other art forms throughout the Caribbean and beyond. Human interest, writing excellence, investment and marketing are involved in what draws and drives the process of contact and communication. Cultural exchange, as an essential course of Caribbean coexistence and as business, is increasing significantly as Caribbean independence and sovereignty strengthens. Our musicians and carnivals are probably the unsung pioneers, for at least 100 years, and now benefit us the most from this cultural union and knowledge of each other. Other artists and art forms are slower in catching up but there is meaningful activity between the “island territories,” within the region and across language zones. Napa has certainly been a forum, a bridge – a record of the “inventory” that the author George Lamming speaks so eloquently about – linking our peoples and cultures. How much, in this case writers and their writings, are known beyond their home island, is also related to political relations, school curricula, immigration, tourism, trade and commerce, media access, language, translations, and cultural and familial proximities between the peoples of the Caribbean. I also work for the day when more St. Martin authors, such as Drisana Jack, Changa Hickinson, Charles Borromeo Hodge, Joseph Lake, Jr., and Fabian Badejo will be read in Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire. It will happen, that more St. Martiners will come to know Arion, Booi, Debrot, Ecury, Lampe, van Leeuwen, our dear Elis Juliana, and other authors from the region. The prosperity of Caribbean peoples also depends on who we want to be; how much we know ourselves within our own island; and how informed are the relations with the nations in the region and peoples from around the world.

Lasana M. Sekou (Saltwater Collection/HNP photo)

ÑAPA: You are a native from Aruba. Is there still a place in your work and heart for the so-called ‘Benedenwinden’?

LMS: I am a St. Martiner. A Caribbean man. The people of the whole Caribbean, including Aruba where I was born, Curacao, and Bonaire, constitute a great core of inspiration. Our region’s people are indeed theraison d’être of my work. Caribbean people, in all of the complexities, are always in my heart. In books such as Born Here (1986), Nativity (1988), Mothernation (1991), Brotherhood of the Spurs (1997, 2007) andThe Salt Reaper (2004, 2005) there are poems and narratives celebrating the cultures and locating challenges of and in Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, as well as Saba and St. Eustatius.

ÑAPA: What means identity and patriotism for you?

LMS: As broad or as personal as the meanings may be, elemental to the interrelated intellectual, spiritual, and practical definitions of identity and patriotism, are the dynamic aspects of knowledge and love for one’s people and culture, for one’s nation as a “member” of the human family and international community of countries. The political independence and sovereignty that we must work for, sacrifice for, and be rewarded by, the establishment, guardianship, and continual development of justice, democracy, and prosperity are essential to living the fullest meaning of one’s identity and patriotism. The identity and patriotism of St. Martin is ultimately undermined by French and Dutch colonialism and the uncritical acceptance of colonialism in the territories, no matter what the “structure of attitude” is (as Edward Said would say) and no matter how the system is manifested politically or readjusted as: Netherlands Antilles, DOM, UPT, CT, BES, “Country within the Kingdom.” Alternatively, St. Martin’s best relations with the Netherlands and France will only be realized when we meet and coexist as independent countries. Literature and the arts should be challenged by and involved in the positive, useful, and creative definitions and redefinitions of the meanings of identity and patriotism. Progressive ideas and activities about identity and patriotism are elemental to human and national liberation processes. It should be no surprise too, that culture and cultural workers (writers included) cannot escape the process of defining, being subject to or even oppressed by the definitions of, and being defined by the multilayered aspects of identity and patriotism.

ÑAPA: Is there on the islands a real lack of historical consciousness?

LMS: If there is a real lack of historical consciousness then it is a direct indication of the failure of colonialism and the currency of anti-historical materialism. The educational, political, and economic systems that ultimately sustain them, definitely foster retarding dependency and the fear of independence for the still colonized peoples. There are profound questions and studies, stemming from long traditions of resistance, about the interpretation of history, about whose history is being written, taught and valued, and about critically researching, writing, teaching and living one’s national history as a sound contribution, no matter how small or grand, to the histories of the world. There is a growing, informed, and critical consciousness, the scholarship of it as well, among the people of each island that constitute a nation. There is also a liberating consciousness about history and the historical process that is being forced by material realities – such as may be inferred from the courageous statement made recently about Curacao and independence by the senior banker Mr. Caprilles – and it is both activist and subversive in the last remaining colonies and in the countries of the Caribbean. We are not at the end of history.

ÑAPA: Is the ideal woman in your poems always a black woman and why?

LMS: The ideal woman in my poems, fictions, and life, is a beautiful woman. Black women are exceedingly beautiful. It is beauty, firstly, that draws me to write about women – enormously complex and mystery-filled as they may be and appear to be. It is beauty that humbles and impassions the poet to write about a woman that he may know intimately, or admire, or desire.

ÑAPA: What is your opinion about the past and present day situation in Haiti?

LMS: Haiti represents a great victory, a glaring tragedy of the punished-victor, and a most determined promise, from the violent cradle of archipelago to the “seen” and yet unseen pinnacles of brilliance in Caribbean history. It is one of humanity’s modern epic of revolution and ongoing liberation struggles. There is the need for greater solidarity for the successes that our brothers and sisters will achieve. Whether that solidarity is slow, hastened, or fails to show from others, I have no doubt that the Haitian people will overcome. There are good people working hard. There are the most desperate situations being overcome daily by people bound to faith. The Haitians are in fact painstakingly overcoming the brutal conditions and the oppressive and criminal regimes from within and without. There are the bedeviling delays, daunting detours, and the suffering setbacks that are in tow and towering before them. But there is this thing about a people who stood alone against great evil at a whirlwind moment in time, a people who forged and were forged by a herculean victory. No matter how low they may fall, no matter how grave the poverty that may grind them to clay. One thing is certain, and history is our witness, Haiti will rise again. It is Haiti’s destiny.

ÑAPA: Is life indeed a struggle with keywords on this path such as love, labor and liberation?

LMS: For the little that I know about this strange business of life, it is not only the literal “negative” meaning of the word struggle that is to be engaged. Struggle here, in the text, as “seen,” as experienced in life and as expressed by the lives of others is about the bittersweet of it all. In this struggle of life is the cohabitation in an event, of crisis and opportunity. The word “path” is interesting. Certainly, love, labor, liberation propel us eternally, or as the RasTas would say, “Iternally” on the path, at times to become the very path, to a better mental, spiritual and material life for the self, the family, the community, the nation, for humanity.

Lasana M. Sekou, author, publisher. Among Sekou’s 13 books of poetry, monologues, and short stories are37 Poems, The Salt Reaper – Poems from the flats and Brotherhood of the Spurs. The writings of the St. Martin author have been required reading at Caribbean and North America universities. Sekou’s poetry and reviews of his work have appeared in Callaloo, The Massachusetts Review, Del Caribe, De Gids, Das Gedicht, Prometeo, World Literature Today, Postcolonial Text, Caribbean Review of Books, and Boundary 2. His poems have been translated into Spanish, Dutch, German, and Chinese. Awards and honors include an IWW Visiting Fellow (Hong Kong Baptist University), a James Michener Fellow (University of Miami), a knighthood (The Netherlands), Recognition for literary excellence in the service of Caribbean unity (Dominican Republic), Culture Time Literary Artist of the Decade, Carlos Cooks Community Service Award, Distinguished Visitor (La Romana, Dominican Republic), and CTO/Conde Nast Award of Excellence. Sekou is an advocate for the independence and unification of St. Martin, which is a colony of France and the Netherlands.

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