Saint Lucia celebrates Creole Heritage Month with Madras-Versus-African-Wear

The Madras-Versus-African-Wear debate for the celebration of Creole Heritage Month is a very interesting one in Saint Lucia.

Castries, Saint Lucia: The Madras-Versus-African-Wear debate for the celebration of Creole Heritage Month is a very interesting one in Saint Lucia. It is very interesting because it speaks to the complex history of the Caribbean people. While the story of the Caribbean draws characters from various races and cultures, the heroism in the plot of our history lies in the successful physical and cultural battles that people of African descent fought to emerge from physical enslavement and break subsequent social barriers. 

Thus, the country have always maintained that, while Creole expressions reflect a multiracial and thus multicultural dynamic, the development of creole art and culture was driven by subversive responses from enslaved Africans to the imposition and hegeomonic dominance of European culture. 

This drive to creolize, a creative response, employed mimicry as a strategy in a highly oppressive, multi-tiered society, which comprised whites at the top, then mullatoes, then browns, then East Indians, followed by people of African descent at the bottom. 

This creative strategy of mimicry is evident in our flower festivals of La Rose and La Marguerite. Here the formerly enslaved would parade in various positions highly ranked in the society. This was merely a guise though, as they were mobilised over weeks through the practise of their ancestral rites.

The Madras fabric is an Indian invention. However, it was European companies who were responsible for mass production of the fabric and for exporting it to the colonies in the Americas of Saint Lucia. It was relatively cheap material. What makes the Madras creole, is the fact that the colonized peoples took this material of inferior status and produced designs that rivalled in effect, the garbs made from wealthier quality material worn by the masters. The representations of the colonized countered the dominant styles.

The drive to creolize was a strategy for achieving agency, for enabling equality of presence, for claiming place, for moving those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder, into the spaces restricted for the privileged. For this reason, the emergence of people wearing Kente fabric and Dashiki designs to celebrate Jounen Kweyol is very logical because the drive to creolize brought African cultural expressions and the pride therein, to the fore.

The choice of African wear for some people comes from the same response of many of the rural folk who even before the popularity of the Afro beat, quite naturally played West African music during the celebrations of their creole heritage.

To celebrate Jounen Kweyol, some people wear Madras while others choose “ African Wear”. This, I think, is cool.

Anglina Byron

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Anglina Byron

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