A Walk in Her Shoes

  “My surroundings were almost overwhelming; they sort of make you drunk after awhile. It’s an interesting thing, what makes a literary culture” (O’Conner).

Jamaica Kincaid is an amazing writer who bases her writings from her past experiences and feelings. “Kincaid’s work is about loss, an all but unbearable fall from paradise partially remembered, partially dreamed, a state of wholeness, in which things are unchangably themselves and division is unknown” (Simmons. 1). Kincaid uses many aspects in her writings, “… the themes of loss, betrayal, and self-betrayal permeate these works…” (Simmons. 4)  Kincaid weaves together the language and her life in Antigua to give the reader an insight to her experiences. One could ask “How does she do it?” In Kincaid’s short story “Girl” she drops small bits of her cultural heritage into her writings. A St. John native, Kincaid was born in 1949 with the original name Elaine Potter Richardson. She spent her first seventeen years in Antigua before she moved to the United States. Although considered young, Jamaica Kincaid is able to give the reader an insight to her British Colonial lifestyle before she was uprooted and moved to the United States. In her short story Kincaid references different aspects of Antigua life, such as cultural music, playing marbles, and different foods.

Following the prohibition of slavery in Antigua, benna became a popular type of folk song used to spread news across the island. The upbeat music benna, consists of a “call and response” lyric using percussion instruments. “Don’t sing benna in Sunday school” (Kincaid), is something that the mother is warning her daughter against. As Christianity took over the island benna was banned. “After the King Court attempt at revolution, the Benna was banned… The singing or humming of a Benna tune on a Sunday was a grave sin” (The Benna is our very own).

Benna dancing at the 2013 Antigua independence folk and heritage festival.

King Short Shirt tried to revive Benna music with his upbeat rhythms, and catchy lyrics.

     Among the many games played in Antigua, marbles is one that connects both the short story and everyday lives of Antiguans . Marbles are played by children but are also enjoyed by adults. Marbles are played by trying to get the smaller marbles out of the circle drawn in the dirt or on another flat surface. Whoever gets the smaller marbles out keeps them, or who ever has the most smaller marbles wins. In Kincaid’s story the mother warns her daughter about squatting down on the ground to play marbles, which is something boys do.

      Another way Kincaid pays homage to her culture is by referencing a variety of foods used in Antigua life. In “Girl”, the mother tells her daughter “when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it” (Kincaid). Kincaid also referenced okra, although is it very common in the United States, it is one of the main ingredients in Pepper pot and fungi. The leaves of the dasheen plant, similar to spinach, are also used in Antigua’s national dish, pepper pot and fungi. Other common foods in Antigua are bread pudding and ducana (doukona). Bread pudding is something we eat in America, but the people of Antigua have a secret weapon that they add in the pudding, black pineapple. Ducana is made from sweet potatoes, sugar, flour and spices. The delectable dishes will have the connoisseur coming back for more. “You’ll find plenty of local food at Carnival City (otherwise known as the Antigua Recreation Grounds in St John’s): seasoned rice, doukona (a dumpling made of flour, sweet potatoes, coconut and sometimes raisins) and salt fish” (Permenter 207).

     Through Jamaica Kincaid’s detailed and heartfelt words of “Girl”, readers are able to paint a colorful picture of how her life was and where she grew up. Antigua’s cultural richness is sewn through Kincaid’s works by referencing music and dancing, food, and games played by the Antiguans. The up-tempo music and dancing breathe life into Antigua’s culture. The delectable foods made by Antiguan people, boast of a rich cultural background. Furthermore, the simple yet entertaining childhood game of marbles shows the fun side of the island.

Works Cited

Kincaid, Jamaica. “ At the Bottom of the River.” New York: Farrah, Straus, Giroux, 1983. Print.

O’Conner, Patricia T. “‘My Mother Wrote My Life’.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 1. Apr 07 1985. ProQuest. Web. 15 Nov. 2015

Permenter, Paris, and John Bigley. Adventure Guide To The Leeward Islands : Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda. Edison, N.J.: Hunter Publishing, 1998. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Simmons, Diane. “A Paradise Lost.” Jamaica Kincaid. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994. 1-22. Twayne’s United States Authors Series 646. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

“The Benna Is Our Very Own.” Http://antiguaobserver.com/the-benna-is-our-very-own. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.