The Writerly Pursuit

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 22, 2011

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeA writer does not write in isolation nor does he always know for whom he writes. A socially-conscious writer, as I see myself, always writes with a purpose. Sometimes it’s to entertain; mostly, it is meant to educate oneself and his public. From that mix one cannot remove the sheer bliss that one finds in writing and yes, even the pleasure of seeing one’s name in print.

It’s a fascination I have had for a long time. At the age of about twenty one when my first published article was published in the Trinidad Guardian—it was about the Mighty Sparrow appearing at Carnegie Hall—in 1969 it was the proudest moment in my life. Months later, I wrote about the Trinidad origins of Black Power in the same newspaper, when I made the link between Richard Wright devoting his book, White Man Listen to his friend, Dr. Williams, and Stokley Carmichael (later Kwame Toure), the person that popularized the term being of Trinidad birth.

Those experiences thrilled me and, with it, came the urge—almost impulsively—to share that knowledge with my brothers and sisters and to write my way into knowledge, the sensation being that you may know a thing but only when you put it on paper then you are forced to examine it in ways that you may not have been able to do if you only read it and kept it to and for yourself.

This impulse to writing is a fantastic thing. Some years ago (I also returned earlier this year) I visited Elimna Castle in Ghana, the slave port from which Africans were shipped to the Americas. After that horrible experience—I could not enter the “Room of No Return—my first sensation was to put my thoughts on paper to come to terms with the trauma that assailed me.

I have been writing for newspapers and other media outlets for a little over forty years. I took my first tentative steps in 1968 when I wrote for my university newspaper—Fordham’s Curved Horn—about the attempt of parents from Ocean Hill, Brownsville in New York to control the education their children received. I had come out of the nationalist movement in Trinidad-led by Dr. Williams and the PNM—and had devoted my life to assisting in the liberation struggle of African peoples wherever they found themselves.

This preamble—it was not intended to be so long—comes out in response to a learned posts by “Ah Tacariguan” to my article, “Messengers of the Invisible,” that appeared in the Trinidad Mirror and trinicenter.com. This intelligent reader took objections to aspects of my article and offered her/his objections. Necessarily I could deal with the many valid points that s/he made. One never has enough time to do deal with all of the implications of any topic in an article of 1,000 words that my editor allows me.

However, I say the following to my respondent. If you examine my forty years of writing you will find that I have written about many things; more about black and the Caribbean people than anything else. My first book, Resistance and Caribbean Literature (1980) examined the role that resistance played in the making of the Caribbean and “resistance” as a metaphor in Caribbean literature. Experts in the field acknowledge that I was the first scholar in the world to use resistance as a literary aesthetic.

A few words about Tacarigua which my young reader felt I was dissing. In my article I used the phrase “reeking with culture” when I compared Paris with Tacarigua. The word reek means “a strong or disagreeable fume or order” which necessarily does not conjure the most pleasant or approving memory. I meant to suggest my anxiety about culture as it is associated with Paris and Europe by extension. In using that verb, I tried to pay cognizance of the validity of my friend’s sentiments. It did not mean to suggest unvarnished praises for things European.

Many of my dear readers cannot know that I am a born and bred “distriker” as Tacariguians of my generation describe themselves. In 1985, I brought down a television crew from Cornell University and did a documentary on Tacarigua that has been shown on TTT (and channel 4) many times. It speaks about the richness of Tacarigua.

The documentary opens with a wonderful scene of tassa drumming; following by shots from a service at the St. Mary’s Anglican Church, interspersed by interviews with Mr. Morrison of Caura; Mother Gerald, a famed orisha practitioner; Mr. Traboulay (having to change his name from Taroub Ali to send his child to a Christian high school); Fred and Hamilton Cudjoe, two of my uncles, and one of the oldest women in Tacarigua speaking in Hindu and her being translated by her daughter. The sister of M. P. Alladin, one of our earliest painters who introduced painting into our school’s curriculum, narrated the documentary.

Ten years later, I wrote Tacarigua: A Village in Trinidad to celebrate the 350-year anniversary of Tacarigua. My commitment to my village and its people has been unwavering.

My people are from Tacarigua. My great grand father and great grand mother were born in Tacarigua in the 1830s. As faith would have it, doing research at the British National Archives this week, I discovered the story of a slave name Cudjoe who had come to the island (I am dying to say Tacarigua) in the 1760s and whose story is captured in a fascinating document.

I wrote on the Vodum exhibition because I wanted to remind readers that we should afford the same respect to Vodun and Shango which is one of the medium our people—African people on the continent and in the islands—use to get in touch with the divine or through which they try to explain the inexplicable. This is a common pursuit of most people in the world. It is what makes us human.

That is all I tried to say in my article.

4 Responses to “The Writerly Pursuit”


  • Good! well said Sir.

  • Quoting from the article:

    … we should afford the same respect to Vodun and Shango which is one of the medium our people … use to get in touch with the divine …

    Dear Prof. Cudjoe,

    I am to refer you kindly to David’s charge to Solomon:

    1 Chronicles 22:11-13.
    11Now, my son, [Yahweh] be with thee; and prosper thou, and build the house of [Yahweh] thy God, as he hath said of thee. 12Only [Yahweh] give thee wisdom and understanding, and give thee charge concerning Israel, that thou mayest keep the law of [Yahweh] thy God. 13Then shalt thou prosper, if thou takest heed to fulfil the statutes and judgments which [Yahweh] charged Moses with concerning Israel: be strong, and of good courage; dread not, nor be dismayed.

    I trust that a word would be sufficient unto the wise.

    Shalom.

  • For once I totally agree with Dr Cudjoe, we should afford the same respect to Vodun and Shango (Orisha)as we give to any other religion. This might seem odd but I also agree with Yoruba Israelite, we should also respect David’s charge to Solomon. In other words, in our plural and complex society it is imperative that we respect each other’s perspectives, religions and way of life.
    Nuff Said

    • Derick,

      As to David’s charge to Solomon, let me amplify in the present context.

      This is a message to Prof. Cudjoe. At some level, it will make more sense to him than to the rest of us.

      However, the elements are public, and the precepts at issue should be clear:

      1) Solomon was a king. Prof. Cudjoe has offered himself as a leader and champion of his people, through his NAEAP — National Association for the Empowerment of African People. Therefore in function, if not form, he is a king.

      2) David, the old king who was handing over to Solomon, gave him the formula for success. It is simplicity itself. It is to keep the law that Yahweh handed down to Moses. “Then shalt thou prosper.” He is also, as required of any king, to be “strong and of good courage, to dread not, and to be not dismayed”. In the latter, Prof. Cudjoe gets high marks, at least from me. But I am not a member of NAEAP, so I judge from afar.

      3) My judgment is however irrelevant. It is Yahweh that judges, and it is Yahweh that sent him this message. Therefore, Yahweh supports his striving in what is a kingly or leadership role.

      4) However, if Prof. Cudjoe is to lead his people in the way he has set out, it is incumbent that he know who he is, and who his people are. This is the identity question. I am here to say to him that he is an Israelite, like all, repeat all, Afro-Creoles of T&T … either by physical bloodline descent from the patriarch Jacob, or by physical grafting in among those who are.

      5) Therefore, Prof. Cudjoe’s first obligation is to be true to the Law of the Holy Covenant to which we, the children of the House of Israel were bound by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 29:29) “for ever”. We as a people suffered the curse of slavery and captivity precisely because our kings (Solomon and those that followed) strayed from the Covenant. Any would-be king or prince of Israel must heed David’s charge to Solomon, otherwise failure is guaranteed.

      6) In keeping the Law of the Holy Covenant, the very first commandment requires the children of Israel to have no other gods before Yahweh (Exodus 20:3). Therefore any dalliance with whatever demi-gods is expressly forbidden.

      7) Solomon failed to keep his charge (1 Kings 11:9-13; Nehemiah 13:26), in his case due to the corrupting influence of outlandish (non-Israelite) women who precisely followed some or other form of “voodoo”, or what the Bible calls baal-worship. The kings that followed Solomon (in northern and southern kingdoms both) erred likewise and brought Israel to its present scattered state, moreover of disempowerment that Prof. Cudjoe seeks to correct, due to the curses which befell us as a result of idol worship.

      8) The word given to Prof. Cudjoe is therefore a word to the wise. He has the wit and good sense to “get it”:

      Isaiah 34:16. Seek ye out of the book of Yahweh, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate …

      Now, having said all of that, let me also add that scripture is clear that the stranger in our midst should neither be vexed nor oppressed (Exodus 22:21). Let the non-Israelite serve their gods, whether voodoo, Hindu, Shinto or other.

      However, those who are children of Israel (which includes all Afro-Creole descendants of the slave trade), and those who join themselves to the Holy Covenant under which the children of Israel are bound, are to heed David’s charge to Solomon, Solomon’s failure in that regard, the consequences that subsequently unfolded, from which we are yet to recover as a people. It is only by God’s grace that we will recover at all (Malachi 3:6).

      Yes, we live in a plural society. So yes, we must respect the Other. But such respect and accommodation should not extend to anything that involves crossing the line laid down by Yahweh under the first commandment.

      There are two possibilities in that regard:

      1) One is where we as Israelites live in an alien society that worships other gods. In that case, Daniel is our role model. He served the king of Babylon in high office, but never did he bow down to any other god but Yahweh, and never did he eat unclean foods (e.g. swine) forbidden to Israelites under the Holy Covenant; and

      2) The second is where we as Israelites live in a society where Government purports to be constituted pursuant to the laws of God, as evidenced by oaths of office being sworn upon the Holy Bible. In this scenario, it is unacceptable to engage in ecumenical observances. The story of Elijah and the priests of Baal is clear (see 1 Kings 18:21-40): the question of respect does not arise, rather strange gods and their priests must be put out and not tolerated.

      I do not admit the third possibility, which is the secular state. This is a creature of Babylon and confusion — the Nowhereian state. The T&T Constitution is founded upon “principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God…”. The first commandment of God is that we have no other gods before him. Therefore, any officer of state that swears not on the Bible is improperly sworn. (Or else we will have to resolve a constitutional — not religious, mind — argument over what is the true Word of God.) In the present case of T&T where officers of government have sworn variously on the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, and who knows what else, there is therefore a fundamental inconsistency with the very constitution they are sworn to uphold, and the government is therefore in a state of rebellion against God and the Constitution. Is it any wonder that there is such disorder in the society?

      Anyway, God will soon come to set things aright.

      Shalom.

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