Footprints of the African in the Caribbean: Part Four


IT is not possible to read The Dragon Can’t Dance and fail to curse for one reason or another depending on one’s ideological position.
Yes, the novel creates expectation from the word ‘go’.
Some readers anticipate complete transformation of the life of the Creoles.
Some expect Carnival to strengthen the unity of the people.
Others look forward to the fulfillment of the high hopes of the characters as is natural to any human creature to hope for the best.
However, most of these expectations are frustrated by the triumph of failure, of mounting disunity and emphatic dead-end polarisation.
One is left with two possible explanations for this seemingly conditioned defeat: That either the author is being unfairly cynical or that if his depiction of this Trinidadian society is historically accurate, then his story is a narration of a people’s tragic holocaust for which slavery, colonialism and capitalism can never be pardoned.
The author’s use of the language of the ordinary folk as the medium of expression seems to exonerate Lovelace from the implied charge of loveless-ness for his people.
He has distinguished himself as a pioneer of infusing into folk language captures the rhythms of steel band and calypso music.
To do this, he appropriates himself poetic licence to forego the rules of conventional grammar in order to accurately capture the sensations of music and dance in his writing and to give literary value to the speech of the Carnival people of the Hill.
Through varied characterisation and historicisation, the novel has focused so directly and so comprehensively on the historical basis for and evolution of a people’s culture within the English-speaking Caribbean.
The Dragon Can’t Dance is a descriptive piece of prose written with the intention of depicting how the custom of Carnival has degenerated from the tribal grandeur of masked devils, to a conventional parade filled with sights and sounds to please the eye and the ear.
The author’s use of contrastive language demonstrates the dramatic shift from the cultural significance of the Carnival to the commercialised tourist buzz and cultural irrelevance of the performance.
To begin with, the prose is rich in imagery, conjuring up the spectacle of the carnival.
The author presents the dichotomy of the poverty-stricken shantytown and the dazzling brilliance of Carnival Monday with descriptive abandon.
The boys are clad in home-made materials, and use discarded objects to play with: “…beating kerosene tins for drums.
“The text then continues with a historical account of the symbolic meaning of the carnival, bringing together people from different homelands within Africa and emanating a sense of pride and power.
“This tribal pride was always deeply entrenched in the blood at least to a subconscious extent.
“Aldrick feels this ancient tradition and warrior-hood deeply engraved in his ancestry (and) entering a sacred mask that invested him with an ancestral authority…threatening destruction…”
Inherent in this description is the element of pride as well as the strong feeling of brotherhood that these festivities elicit among the people.
It is exactly this sensation of fraternity and tradition that would for a while chain Aldrick to his homeland.
Nonetheless, the pivotal icon of the dance, Aldrick himself, slowly evolves out of the life of the Carnival, thus underling the fading significance of this cultural event. Henceforth he cannot help but think that this world of fantasy is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
Disturbing images of frightening, black devils wearing horns and holding tridents were the most striking attraction of the old carnival.
The concentrated use of onomatopoeia such as ‘tinkling’, ‘cracking’, ‘lashed’, enhances the atmosphere of cacophony and revelry which characterised the old Carnival.
This relentless noise and pure emphasis on the physical and the element of barbarity may be seen as a desperate cry to return to a time in which instinct and strength were all that mattered.
All this is now swept away by the transition: “Suddenly they were all gone…gone, and (Aldrick) felt alone.”
This anti-climax leads the reader into the scene of the new carnival, the merriment and joyful colours which sharply contrasts the sheer animal vibrancy of the old ways.
The new tone varies considerably from the one before.
Aldrick is ostensibly in favour of the new dispensation, a mind torn between his own culture and new ways of thinking.
The finest illustration of this is the metaphor of the dragon, the beast that gradually loses strength as the novel progresses.
The final line is maybe the best example of how an entire tribal civilisation is on the verge of losing its identity, “…the thought that maybe he didn’t believe in the dragon anymore.”
In the end, the author successfully conveys the end of a spiritual journey, at which point Aldrick Prospect comes to terms with the notion that his ancestral heritage may have lost its importance.
In the novel The Dragon Can’t Dance, Lovelace expresses several reccurring themes that illustrate fundamental psychological losses which prompt the characters to try and rediscover and re-establish on personal and community levels. Identity is the overarching theme of the novel.
Aldrick and his host of friends and acquaintances are striving to locate connectedness in something other than their involvement in the Carnival experience that occurs only once a year in their city of Port of Spain. Unfortunately, in spite of their efforts, their multi-generational lack of roots and culture prevents them from developing meaningful attachments to something tangible.
This undermines their sense of identity on a personal and societal level.
At the end of the novel, Aldrick questions his identity.
He thinks to himself, “What was he (Aldrick) without the dragon?
“Who was he?
“What was there to define himself?
“What would he be able to point to and say: This is Aldrick?”
Without a history or culture to relate to, Aldrick represents a vast number of people of Trinidad who are at a loss in terms of their identities.
He is searching for his roots or some clue that will direct him homeward yet all in vain.
Pariag, too, the Indian, attempts in vain to redefine himself in the context of the rainbow society of the Hill.
He has hoped in vain that being part of a bigger group and community would increase his self-actualisation
The other theme is the call for political unityamong the oppressed, the search for a meaningful collective consciousness and power to the people.
It is against this quest that, Aldrick, Fisheye and the other men highjack the police van and drive crazily though the town shouting: “We are the People’s Liberation Army.
“Today we are calling our people to come out, to rise up and take power!
“Rise and reclaim you manhood, people!
“Rise up!”
These young men are trying to inspire unity and meaning within a community that had been disconnected from its cultural roots for centuries, but their melodramatic display lacks both plan and direction hence resulting in their arrest and imprisonment.
As with other post-colonial populations, Trinidad’s society represents a culture of resistance in response to the tyranny of slavery and colonialism in general, but the kind of immaturity exhibited by the ‘freedom fighters’ begs the earnestness of authorial ideology.
All of these themes are interwoven and indicative of a primary absence of fulfilling attachment, which serves as the lynchpin to identity.


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