Confiant : «To reject our national languages is suicide»

confiant-2

Like Patrick Chamoiseau, you are known as a great defender of Créolité. What is current status of the Créole project?
– Our message comes from a triply tragic history since Créole society was born out of three human catastrophes: the genocide of the Caribs, the original inhabitants of the region; the enslavement of Africans; and the indenture of Indians and Chinese to replace the blacks in sugarcane plantations after the abolition of slavery in 1848. That is to say that it does not stem simply from the stance of some intellectuals in search of recognition, as some of our detractors say. Créolité is the fruit of an unprecedented historical violence which we have nonetheless succeeded in overcoming little by little, with difficulty, in order to build a new form of identity that one can describe as multiple. Almost all the peoples of the world came together, three centuries ago, in our islands, encounters that were certainly violent but which allowed us to glean this new form of identity that the world seems to have just discovered through the process of globalization. The Créole message is that of “diversalité,” the need for all peoples, all nations, all individuals to come out of themselves to discover within them, even if the process is difficult or even painful, the other, the stranger in them.

How do you define Créole literature? What makes it unique?
– Créole literature is marked, is haunted, one could say, by the French/Créole diglossia. Créole is the “mute language” in our literature, according to Jacques Coursil, but it is the «mute that speaks.» In every créole text there are two voices: a Créole voice and a French voice. On the other hand, Créole literature carries the idea of “diversalité” that I just spoke about since the multiplicity of identities that have contributed to the formation of Créole identity are all expressed through it. That is to say that it can never be an egocentric literature. It is, from the outset, a literature than encompasses diversity. Personally, I write both in Créole and in French. I published my first five books in Créole and I have been very happy to see that in Senegal a writer of the stature of Boris Boubacar Diop has written his first novel in Wolof. To write in our native tongues does not mean a rejection of French, but to reject our national languages is a crime against ourselves, a suicide.  

What have been the African contributions to créolité ?
– The African contribution is very important to Créolité. If we have received a lot from Caribbean Amerindians, Europeans, and much later Asians (Indians, Chinese, and Syrian-Lebanese), it is evident that the foundation of Créole culture is African in origin, but modified, restructured in response to the demands of the New World and above all of the plantation. Créole magic-religiosity, our rapport to the invisible world—to the otherwordly—owes a lot to West African religions like Voudou. The same can be said of our music, in which the drum is ever-present. In our social relations, the relationships between men and women, the education of children . . . there remain a number of traits inherited from Africa but reconstructed, since the Antilles (since America in general) is not Africa. The slave was forced to adapt to an unknown universe and to reconstruct a new culture on the verge of disappearing. From the moment that Africans understand and respect our difference, a difference that is not at all an obstacle to the necessary solidarity between the two coasts of the Atlantic, there will remain no disagreement between us.  
For the original interview (in French) go to http://www.pressafrik.com/Raphael-Confiant-Rejeter-nos-langues-nationales-est-un-suicide_a7794.html

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