Beaming in from Barbados –Back with the Astro-Caribbean series…
The United States has a large comics book industry. But that doesn’t mean other places are not developing their own. As my parents are from Barbados and Dominica, I wanted to feature two comic book creators and publishers making it happen in the Caribbean:
“Beyond Publishing is a group of young and talented Barbadian artists and writers who are seeking to encourage reading and creativity by capturing the imagination of young people and the young at heart.
Beyond Publishing tries to showcase stories with a Barbadian or Caribbean flavour, through several genres: comedy, adventure, educational or drama.”
Imagine seeing the journey of the Black Atlantic through the memories of a centuries-old vampiric human. A DC IT specialist working at an HIV organization Justin Kena is privileged with this information when he falls for one named Dante. As he falls in love, he learns of the ancient indigenous Yoruba group, the Razadi, who are vampiric and witnesses to pre-, during, and post-slavery times in Rashid Darden‘s Birth of a Dark Nation.
Birth of a Dark Nation flips the script on traditional vampire tales from its shifting narration to its inclusion of slave narration and cultural rituals to non-Western views of the vampire to it as a same-gender loving story that confronts those who say it is a recent Western phenomenon. Darden’s previous work, Lazarus, Covenant, and Epiphany has centered on black LGBT experiences, and now he has taken that and extended it to black speculative fiction.
The story begins with a Razadi receiving orders from an elder to watch over Justin because he is considered the “key,” similar to Neo in the Matrix or any messiah-like character. Later, we are introduced to Dante, a street hustler, who Justin randomly notices and to whom he has an instant attraction. When Dante finally reveals who he is to Justin, Justin begins his transformation from the computer guy at a dead-end job to part of the Razadi family and leader in his community.
“The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.” – Audre Lorde
Quite a number of people within the past couple of weeks have basically told black women (and other women of color in general) that our voices, our bodies and any power we have –present, past or future — is not to be respected or honored. On several fronts we are attacked, from our erasure from mainstream feminism (#solidarityisforwhitewomen) to our erasure from racial discourse (#blackpowerisforblackmen). Even women who expect to be revered are treated trivially. Last week, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons released a Harriet Tubman “sex tape” that he thought was suppose to be funny. Afrofuturists know Tubman as an icon in our spaces, just look at Chronicles of Harriet, Sanford Biggers, Elizabeth Hamilton, and Cauleen Smith. Yes, he took the video down, after he was quickly called out on it, and his apology was basically all bull, implying that we were too sensitive, and not the critique of the racially misogynist (or misogynoir) aspects of the video. For example, having Tubman seduce a white master matches the jezebel stereotype and reinforces notions of black women’s incapability of being raped. Additionally, it was the inaccuracy of the video to Tubman’s story and the reduction of a woman to degrading, pornographic sex. Now he wants to do a movie about Tubman. C’mon, please! Rather than waiting for that half-assed sorry that will be that film, below are some works that show greater respect for us. For the past few weeks, I have read and viewed works that spoke to me as a Black woman about us reclaiming our power in different situations.
The three works — two from Caribbean writers, Nalo Hopinkson’s Midnight Robber and Marie-Elena John’s Unburnable, and the other, a Cameroonian film, Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Les Saignantes (The Bloodettes) — all explore stories of women who fight to overcome sexual oppression, sometimes even at the hands of other women, through a re-imagining of themselves and a reclaiming of feminine ancestral wisdom and bodies. One of the most striking parts that is similar in all three is the reliance of ancestral feminine wisdom and ritual, and ancestral women by the main characters, much like what we should do with Harriet Tubman. (*warning: spoilers coming*)
As we are in the midst of carnival season, I would like to share something interesting that I learned about carnival in Dominica. The other day I visited my family in Brooklyn and one of my cousins let me borrow his book, Ma William and Her Circle of Friends. Written by Giftus John, who taught my father in Dominica, the story centers around a storekeeper, Ma William, and the people who visit her store in the village of Senjo. The book depicts the characters coping with the rapid changes on their island and their effort to hold onto their traditions. I reached chapter four, called “Playin’ Mas,” a common Caribbean carnival phrase. I actually learned about it from Trinidadian dancer and singer Michael Manswell of Something Positive at the Carribean Cultural Center’s Roots and Stars Praise Dance event. “Play Mas” means to put on a mask or be part of the masquerade.
One interesting costume I read about in the chapter is the sensay costume. The sensay costume is of West African Twi (Akan/Ashanti) origin. It is one of the oldest forms of costume, made either of frayed rope and other fibrous material such as pounded leaves of the agave (called sisal or “langue beff”) or strips of paper, cloth, frayed plastic sacks and dry banana leaves (pai fig). A mask with cow horns is usually worn with the costume. The name comes from the Twi word senseh, which is a fowl with curled or ruffled feathers. The fowl is known for having spiritual properties amongst the Twi people.