Language as a site of resistance

Essay, 2002

10 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)


In her essay “African Roots and Continuities: Race, Space and the Poetics of Moving” Marlene Nourbese Philip portrays the Canadian Caribana festival, first held in 1967 and framed by the Canadian Centennial celebrations, and its prototype, Trinidadian Carnival. She mainly names two characters; Maisie and Totoben. Both occur throughout the essay engaged in one thing: the celebration of Carnival, or later then, Caribana in Toronto.

Philip writes in a “Caribbean demotic of English”, according to her own words.[1] As she discusses the phenomena of Carnival, this demotic is more suitable to give an accurate image of its origins. Especially the energy and the dynamic embedded in Caribana, and earlier Carnival is transported more lively. “Kinetic qualities” go with the language she calls a Caribbean demotic. These display the fascination and attraction of the festival, and this first statement might give a reason for her choice.

She has composed an essay, which also satisfies historical needs. As she transports the knowledge of a single event’s origin and its transformation throughout time, the question arises, why Philip did not choose Standard English to make her argument. This might be expected rather from a political and historical paper, than from one displaying only cultural aspects. Marlene Nourbese Philip´s essay can be considered to be a historical essay, since she connects several stations in ,space and time, in other words, in geography and history. The connection is implied by her synonymous naming of the main characters, Maisie and Totoben, who connect the slave-ships to the Carnival parade in Toronto.[2]

According to Philip the reason for her choice derives from the belief “that some experience demand a faithfulness to the language in which the experience happens has stimulated this impulse”[3], but there are more reasons to be found by expanding the question:

In what sense is her choice of language a sign of resistance, and how far is language itself a site of resistance?

Her topic is an event, which was born in a state of rage, as one site of resistance. The event might have had it’s beginning in eighteenth century Trinidad as an answer to colonial rule. Philip suggests to start in history with the arrival of the French in Trinidad 1784. Followed by years of change, the carnevalesque masquerade derived from an political event and was originated in 1789 by Toussaint and Dessalines

putting on the costumes of the Jacobins and with their Napoleon hats and coat-tails they turning themselves into Black Jacobins and parading through history and ending Napoleon and his empire earlier than he expecting.[4]

Moreover, the rite of masquerading might have been inspired by European Christmas festivities, where people used to parade through the streets wearing masks and costumes.

Carnival itself is to be seen in the tradition of the changes in 1789, as sign of triumph over colonial rule.

As mentioned above rage plays an important role in this context. Wherever rage occurs it is a form of reaction to action. It derives from a state of misery, where the means of expressing emotions are not carefully considered. The situation seems to prevent the carefully considered expression of emotions. Rage usually is an impulsive reaction to an unbearable situation or action taken by someone else, and appears in diverse forms:

At base, rage is an emotion that, when expressed, either individually or collectively, manifests itself in many forms including volatile and violent actions, artistic productions, discourses and political activism.[5]

Rage in Philip’s essay is caused by control, oppression, and discrimination performed by “beka” over Maisie and Totoben.[6] Philip tells the story of action and reaction and shows the way Maisie and Totoben undergo the ever new techniques beka invents to keep control over Maisie and Totoben and how Carnival epresses and provides an vent for rage. Philip closes the circle and her essay stating: “And just so the war over for one more year – is sweatandbeat andjostleandpulseand moveandmoveandjostleandpulseandpush…”[7]


[1] Philip, Marlene Nourbese: “African Roots and Continuities: Race, Space and the Poetics of Moving” . A Genealogy of Resistance and Other Essays. Ed. Marlene Nourbese Philip. Toronto: The Mercury Press, 1997. 202.

[2] cf. 207.

[3] cf. 202.

[4] cf. 209.

[5] Allison, Terry L. and Renée R. Curry: “Invitation to Rage”. States of Rage: Emotional Eruption, Violence, and Social Change. New York and London: New York University Press, 1996. 2.

[6] “Beka” is the author’s synonym for the “white establishment”.

[7] Philip: 1997. 230.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Language as a site of resistance
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (English Seminar)
Caribbean-Canadian Literature
1,7 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
400 KB
Language, Caribbean-Canadian, Literature
Quote paper
Alf-Christian Obermaier (Author), 2002, Language as a site of resistance, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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