Imanyé Dalila Daniel - Zaïre and Théophile No Mercy for the Negroes
Hello Imanyé Dalila Daniel, Flashmag by my voice thank you for agreeing to take a moment of your time for this interview. We’ll get to the heart of the matter without further ado . If it is true that you were already known in the corridors of Afro Caribbean culture because you have staged plays especially since 1992 with the musical Manon in the country of Manman Dlo. Woman of culture you have also received several distinctions from the SACEM, the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of France. Notably in 1999 and 2001 where you received the SACEM 2000 award for the best Biguine.
So, a classic question what brings you to writing?
Imanyé: The pleasure of expressing ideas, and these words singing to the ear and to the soul. The pleasure of writing since my childhood has led me to write. I was curious, I was reading a lot, I was writing poems and songs too. I did not realize what I was doing, and then one day I found out that, what I was doing was quite original, so I began to be careful, to listen to myself, to put words on those melodies that came to my mind. Thus, I realized that I was a songwriter. And when I finished my studies,that I had to cut short because my mother had already a certain age, and had 13 children, I did not want to impose her a long school curriculum, so when I finished my studies, I Quite naturally oriented towards journalism because there was a lot of writing to do there as well. So, I was trained in Martinique as journalist in investigation and collection of information. I was a journalist for many years for printed medias before of course working for radio and television channels. I am a communication person I think I have a facility to express myself. I did not calculate my course I did things as they came. One day I came across a story that moved me and I decided to write this novel.
Zaire and Theophile, let’s talk about it, what inspired you this story?
Imanyé: Look, I have a friend Hanetha Vete Congolo who is a professor of Caribbean literature in an American university, and she regularly comes to Martinique and when she’s there we meet regularly and we redo the world. And one day we were talking about that ocean of solitude that can be observed among men and women in Martinique, then she told me, it has not always been like this. Look for example at Zaire and Theophile…So, I asked who is Zaire and Theophile? Then she tells me this history of African lovers, a poignant story that Victor Schoelcher briefly evokes in one of his writings in 1840, stating that they were of the same ethnic group without mentioning which one .. I find this story magnificent, I find it even more beautiful than Romeo and Juliet, because Romeo and Juliet died by a succession of coincidences, while for Zaire and Theophile the problematic is more communitarian they subtract themselves violently, from a pernicious and inhuman world, that of slavery. I found that this story was very beautiful and it was necessary for all Martinican to know it, because we lack cruelly of heroes in our history. I found them really beautiful these two, and I decided to tell their story. The story takes place 10 years before the abolition of slavery, and it was necessary to faithfully transcribe what life was like, in Martinique at that time. This was a 3-year investigation. I discovered some bewildering things I intended to write a love story Zaire and Theophile the lovers of the salty river, I found myself writing a book that go from 1820 to 1869 that is to say the Post-abolitionist period to the post-abolitionist period. The lovers of the salty river became no mercy for the negroes, because I discovered that the fate of blacks had been sealed at that time by the Creole slave’s owners community. A system has been put in place to allow the perpetual domination of African descendants in Martinique.
Why did you think that it was necessary to tell it today? Is there a kind of actualization of the facts so much that history tends to repeat itself?
Imanyé: I do not know if history is actualized it's based on facts of the pass. Facts can be rewritten but they cannot be changed. And the history of slavery is not well known in the Caribbean, for example, at home in school, those of our generation learned that our ancestors were Gallic, and I personally learned that there was slavery in Martinique by chance, when I fell on a book by the historian Armand Nicolas who explained that on May 22, 1848 there was a revolution of slaves in Martinique, and who says revolution of slavery says existence of a system of servitude. It was a shock, a veil that tore apart before my eyes. We do not know enough about our history. And since this book came out, I ‘m reminded by readers that this is the first time that someone describes in detail the daily life of Africans in Martinique during slavery time. The slaves are looked upon as a cold block, yet they were peoples who had different personalities and backgrounds from one another, born in captivity or forcibly deported to the island as child or adult. Readers realize that slaves were people like them who had lives, dreams, aspirations, they were simply deprived of everything through slavery. Even women's bellies did not belong to them. The history of slavery is not known and worse there is a system that prevent it to be known.
With this book what message do you want to carry? What audience are you targeting?
Imanyé: It is knowledge, I start from the principle that knowledge makes free, it gives the tools to analyze things and it is by analyzing things that one understands and one discovers hidden truths ... The public that I aim at first is Martinique, it is important that the Martinicans learn their history so that they know what happened in the past to understand what they are today ... Zaire and Theophile are very important heroes for us because through their history they come back to teach us our history
You seem to refuse to carry the Creole identity, which logically you believe belongs to the slave colonists of the Caribbean, however some believes that creolity is the interbreeding between African and Western cultures In a distinct environment, namely the Caribbean, in your opinion what is the right measure?
Imany: It is a very deep problem because it can divide, and according to what I understand things are simple. There is a word Creole and there is a Creole identity, and this word originally meant slave’s owners, who settled in the Caribbean for several generations, and brought a certain way of life. These peoples, in all the documents are called creoles. They imported furnitures, some type of domestic animals like dogs that they called Creole, the same for the Africans they imported that they named Creole as all their properties. Well this story lasted 300 years, which means that, on that land there are on one side Creoles, and negroes on the other. While suddenly today they we say that we are all creole, I find it curious, I find it very grave ... because I am asked to take the historical identity of the torturer . I cannot because it’s an insult to the memory of my ancestors. The reason that Creole means mixed do not hold for me, the real creoles are still in place, and control the economy of the island as in the old days. Creole does not imply mixed breeds but. There are Creoles in Louisiana and they are white, there are Creoles in India and they are whites. There are Creoles wherever slave masters settled. I am not a Creole, but I’m black, an Afro Caribbean woman descended from the Africans deported to the Caribbean. I have the right to claim the cultural heritage of my ancestors from Africa. I do not want to call myself Creole, especially since I am forbidden to call myself African.
Racism remains very recurrent in the Caribbean and not only from the békés , but from the black community and especially because those who are mixed with the skin lighter seems to look down at those with darker complexion, a trend that is called colorism in the United States. It still happens in the Caribbean nowadays that one sheds shame on those with darker skin. In your opinion why and how to get rid of this behavior?
But who created this difference? Who voluntarily created this division that distinguished the black who had just arrived, from the one who was there before. Who helped some peoples in Africa to feel that they need to whiten their skin to feel beautiful? wherever the colons went, they created division to rule better. Without this system in Martinique the settlers would not have survived, since the number of slaves at a time was more important than the number of white settlers. They needed methods to maintain the status quo. And today's racism is only the logical continuation of what began in the days of slavery. The greatest crime that the white man has done to blacks is to have given them self-hatred through methods of extreme violence.
In the evolution of black peoples of the Caribbean and even of the rest of the world, there are two tendencies, one that is aimed at a gradual but complete assimilation of the so-called black race into the white mold and the Pan-African tendency which finds that blacks must evolve while keeping their roots. In the current state of affairs which tendency has chances to win this battle ?
Imanyé: I refute this thesis that leagues blacks against each other. Why do we
have to be opposed. Everyone has the right to choose the civilization in which he feels comfortable and this must not be a struggle, a duel. it must be an individual question.
But the culture one chooses still has to be in accordance with some hard facts, because here and there racism will continue to exclude some peoples regardless of their cultural choice, many are not always accepted into a cultural community because of the way they look.
To return to your book the love story became a rebellious history of self-determination, which at the same time warns all those who still refuse to take position. Why the narrative took this turn?
The story is what it is ... I tried to tell it faithfully but seen the lack of elements I had to give them the Wolof origin because it is a tribe that I know, a people I Know better. What is true is that they rebelled by committing suicide. Zaire and Theophile have evaded to their condition together as a couple. So it was an act of resistance. These lovers without sepulcher, come back from the dead to tell us our story.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Where is it available?
It took me 3 years, it is available in all the bookshops of Martinique it is in the pan African bookshops in Paris, it is available on Internet at www.leetchi.com
At the end of this interview do you have a special word to the public? A question That you would have liked to see us ask you?
I would have liked to be asked what I think about the behavior of the great Creoles of today? I am sad for them because they will be remembered as people who have been rich and powerful, just like their ancestors, and they will be nothing different. Yet in this modern world they had the opportunity to change the situation, to enter history by breaking their own chains. They have a life of great banality.
And the black populations of the West Indies, do you think, they are rewriting their history?
I am very pessimistic, we have very little time to exist as a black people in Martinique, as the statistics are clear. I even wrote a play about, 2030 Edmond de Rosenberg. there is a genocide by substitution taking place. Aimée Césaire deplored it 40 years ago. Black populations are increasingly replaced and within 20 years there will be almost no blacks in Martinique. The young people leave the island and do not return because they have no future there. We do not have much time left to react as a people and it’s time for every one of us to define personally what to do with its life, its land and its descendants.
Imanyé Dalila Daniel, thank you for giving us this interview
Imanyé: it is rather me who thank you.