In 1959, as a five year old, I arrived in Southampton from Jamaica having experienced periods of separation from my mother. Like many Caribbean parents of the time, my mother had been working away, in her case in Canada, to save enough money to take her family to Britain. As children we were being united not just with our physical mother but with the country we had been taught to think of as the Mother Country. Many years later, when I began research into the construction of British Caribbean identity for a postgraduate thesis, it became clear that the confluence between Caribbean notions of mothers and Motherland with experiences of separation and reunion were not just part of my personal childhood history. The work of Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy, amongst others, has explored the response of Black British people to migration and colonialism. My intention here is to examine one strand of this thinking, with particular reference to a number of literary works, Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners and my own book Pilgrim State in order to better understand the ways that the experience of migration and settlement for people of Caribbean descent has changed over the last sixty years.
The effects of enslavement on the relationship to ‘self’ has been commented on by writers such as CLR James and Franz Fanon. For more than two hundred years people of African descent had their bodies and minds enslaved through a number of violent and subtle stages that internalised oppression, making bearable what was, in reality, insufferable. However, people will always subvert oppression and Africans were not passive victims; they never have been, they rebelled, not just through acts of open revolt, such as those which occurred in Barbados or Haiti. In every day life enslaved peoples subverted the power of the plantocracy, developing coded, highly mobile language systems, casting spells, corrupting food and saboutaging work schedules. However, one of the most effective and least known modes of resistance was the action taken by women in relation to their own reproduction. Control of fertility was, not surprisingly, a central arena for conflict; the issue being not simply how many children a woman would have, but when they would be born, who the father would be and the eventual fate of those children. Continue reading