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Coolitude: Theoretical underpinnings

The term Coolitude is derived from “coolie,” a word originating in Tamil that means “laborer” with the implication that the labor provided is physical in nature. The British started taking Indians into their colonies in 1838, a trade that lasted until 1917, created to provide labor needed in sugar plantations after slavery was abolished. Its roots are in labor and works to reclaim an identity that acknowledges histories of labor and the British labor trade in the colonies. This type of movement that faces Asia from spaces where overseas Indians live counters common wisdom that holds that fictions of “race” create identity.

 

kuli nam dharaya

Natalwa me ai ke

bhajan karo bhaya

hath me cambu

kandh me kudari

pardesita ghare jai

 

They’ve given you the name “coolie”

Bird, La Bruja

Soleida Ríos, Photo by Kristin Dykstra, 2013
Soleida Ríos, Photo by Kristin Dykstra, 2013

Soleida Ríos (b. 1950 in eastern Cuba) is a remarkable poet from whom comparatively little work is circulating to date in English.  There may be a further delay in terms of book projects in translation, for Ríos lost a translator when Barbara Jamison tragically passed away. 

The death of a translator is a reminder of the small, mortal scale of possibility embedded within these our “global” landscapes.  It’s also a cue to remember, with Esther Allen, that “the translation of a text often depends largely or perhaps wholly on contextual factors that have less to do with the work’s intrinsic value (whatever that might be and however you might measure it) than with encounters between individuals and the shifting cultural and political contexts within which those encounters take place.”[1]

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