by Gabriel J. Christian, Esq.
Somewhere it is written that truth crushed to the ground will one day rise again. And who shall ensure the endurance of eternal truth where it is coupled with humanity’s yearning to be free? No one is better suited to that task than the writer who ensures that the record is maintained. Absent the written word, the nation cannot exist and all that is worthy is obliterated. But for the writer, all our lives shall be dominated by shallows and miseries.
So it is with those arrayed under the banner of the Dominica Arts and Literary Association (DALA) who will gather for our nation’s first ever virtual writers congress on October 31, 2020. In what will be a first, Dominican writers will seek to create a free space for intellectual inquiry into our condition, and seek to forge a path towards the betterment of our people at home and abroad. That steadfast desire to commune around the written word and engage the world of transcendental ideas is the best tribute to Dominica’s 42nd anniversary of independence. More so at a time when issues of national identity, national development, sustainability, self respect, the self confidence of a people, and national purpose remain faint echoes amidst the din of materialism attendant to the wanton sale of our birthright.
It is truly fitting and proper that the lead in galvanizing this alliance of Dominican writers came from a medical doctor: Pennsylvania based Dominica-born trauma surgeon Dr. Dale Dangleben.
A prolific author of works on Dominican literature, and texts on medical science, Dangleben is also the originator of the Negre Mawon clothing brand. Someone who considers himself an unapologetic Pan Africanist, and humanitarian, Dr. Dangleben is an unspoken exponent of Dominica’s national pride rooted in the anti-slavery resistance of the Negre Mawon who between 1760 and 1815 – in collaboration with our Kalinago people – created freed settlements of runaway slaves within the towering heights of Dominica’s mountainous fastness.
This focus on literature by a medical doctor of Dominican heritage is nothing new. Dr. Daniel Thaly, of mixed Dominica/Martinique roots was a noted poet in the early 20th century who married his medical profession to a keen interest in literature. Dr. Samuel J. Christian, author of the “Mannafast Miracle” and an essayist on medical matters has shown some dexterity with the pen. So too has Dr. Irving Pascal taken up the pen with great insight and probing of our condition.
Thaly’s work spoke to our island’s natural beauty and possessed a sense of our African antecedents. However,Thaly never sought to link his art to any organization taken with that spirit of resistance to slavery and the racial prejudice and class prejudice which outlived it. Resistance to tyranny is emblematic of the recent work of Dangleben who places his consciousness squarely within the context of national pride and the duty we owe to uphold the liberty loving anti slavery rebels on Dominica we call Negre Mawon. More impactful is that Dangleben has sought to organize the Dominican writer around the core values of a dignified spiritual introspection which values pride in a free and prosperous homeland. The DALA therefore represents victory of the Negre Mawon spirit, where it gives our people agency around study, meritocracy and organized effort.
The Dominican Negre Mawon are increasingly seen by modern scholars of slave resistance in the Americas as exemplars of a unique uprising by Africans and allied Kalinago who proudly and fiercely defended their freedom. So powerful were they that British Governor Ainslie who sought to crush the Negre Mawon wrote despairingly to his superiors in London that these bold Africans had created, in his words “an imperio in imperium” or a state within a state. It is altogether fitting and proper to acknowledge in this moment the work of the July 12 Movement (the most notable Negre Mawon Chief on Dominica was Jaco who was martyred on July 12 1814), Raymond Lawrence, Polly Patullo, Dr. Lennox Honychurch and US academic Dr. Neil Vaz for teaching us about our glorious past. And we do well to acknowledge the steps made to honor that anti-slavery resistance by the erection in August 2013 of a statue to Negre Mawon Chief Jaco in Roseau by the current Dominica government. That Negre Mawon statue is but a start. More needs be done however to create a Negre Mawon curriculum in our schools and initiate a museum to our Negre Mawon heritage.
Alwin Bully, the iconic playwright, artist, and designer of Dominica’s national flag stated during the 2016 emancipation celebration “the problem Dominicans face is not knowing enough about their past, especially the history of the Maroon people. They were actually freedom fighters who succeeded on many fronts and harassed the oppression of the British especially in those years.”
Alwin Bully intimates that such knowledge of history is intrinsic to knowledge of self and cultivation of self worth. Such are valuable ingredients in building national pride and purpose, as they are to what value we place on ourselves. I posit that national dignity resides greatly in ones’ sense of a noble past. If one believes that slavery is our sole legacy, that is a problem. A huge problem! Therefore, the best antidote to a descent into criminal conduct and despair is commitment to study and organization that elevates the meritorious nature of our freedom struggle. It is such an understanding of our unique history which will lead to a better understanding of our current circumstances and enhance opportunities for a better future.
In creating such a desirable setting, the DALA invites all Dominicans and liberty loving humanity to appreciate literature as a catalyst for a growth in national consciousness which respects who we are, and points a way toward freedom and prosperity. The event seeks to shed a curatiive light into our lives at a time when crass materialism and disregard to the national interest seem ascendant.
The DALA, is reared in the freedom loving consciousness of the Negre Mawon whose spirits still suffuse the ecosystem of our beautiful island. DALA summons all to write, create, and so build the beloved community rooted in respect for ourselves and our liberty-loving culture. May we never debase ourselves like those who sold our ancestors into the slave ship and the bottomless pit of despair. May it be that our writers be so industrious and take up the pen and expand the knowledge base of our people in all ways meaningful – to include keen study of our Negre Mawon liberty-loving legacy. By being constant gardeners of the mind, our writers shall rise to that solemn sense of duty in the cause of freedom as taught us by the Negre Mawon whose sacrifices hastened the abolition of slavery in 1834 – less than twenty years after the end of Dominica’s Second Maroon War.
On the 31st October 2020, writers Shirley Allan,Dr. Irving Andre, Dr. Simone Mathieu, Sharon Dorival, Giftus John, Dr. Thomson Fontaine, Shihnan Robin, Matilda Popo, Dr. Dale Dangleben and others will expound on their literary works. In so doing they will imbue Dominica’s independence celebrations, and the cause of freedom and progress with new meaning. And in that moment those writers who formed DALA will make common cause with our brave anti-slavery warriors who sought to create free settlements in Dominica’s hinterland in the 18th and 19th centuries. DALA is therefore in communion with that spirit of resistance to inequity.
Today, the writer is the midwife who must work to emancipate our people from the mental slavery which impedes our forward march as a people. We must, of necessity, restore the pride of a nation now withering from a spiritual emptiness, manifested in societal waywardness. Writing for writing sake therefore is a luxury, we can ill afford. Writers in this moment of national challenge and humanity’s concerns about global warming must equip themselves with the best tools in the arts and sciences to build just and sustainable societies. The writer in this struggle to redeem our best hopes must constantly add to the circumference of our knowledge of our past, so that we can navigate towards a beneficial future. A future in which we favor the raising of temples to learning and liberty, instead of giving license to those who would loot our sense of dignity, integrity and blessed hope.
In the words commonly attritbued to another Dominican surgeon Dr. Irving Pascal who favors a progressive union between the arts, sciences and spiritual rootedness “may our ancestors be pleased by this effort.”
Onwards to the first DALA Congress of Dominican writers!