St Maarten Poetry part of Curricula in “Caribbean Civilization” class at St Augustine Campus, UWI, Trinidad

Lasana M. Sekou, author. (Saltwater Collection)

The first semester of the 2011-2012 academic year is winding down with exams and book reports. And one student has something to say about one of the books that her class had to study this semester at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad & Tobago.

Nativity should be implemented as a text because it illustrates the shaping of Caribbean culture and identity,” said Kelita Stewart recently.

The undergraduate student was talking about Nativity/Nativité/Natividad by Lasana M. Sekou – her experience with the book and exchanges among her classmates.

Nativity was utilized in the Course Foun1101 Caribbean Civilisation,” said Dr. John Campbell, the course lecturer at UWI’s St. Augustine campus.

The students were required to read, discuss, and write an end-term paper about the Nativity long poem by the St. Martin writer, studied at one of the region’s premier institutions of higher learning.

The Caribbean Civilisation class is taken by students majoring in disciplines ranging from political science to banking and finance. The course is offered on more than one UWI campus.

Nativity “will allow students to appreciate the evolution of the region out of colonialism which is deeply rooted,” said Stewart, an International Relations (Bsc) major.

Nativity/Nativité/Natividad – Trilingual Edition by Lasana M. Sekou (cover art: Fernando Botero).

To Campbell, himself a scholar, and other proponents of Caribbean Civilization studies such as Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the field for study stretches from pre-Columbian influences to projecting concepts about the very futures that the peoples of the region are determined to build.

The UWI foundation (Foun1101) course may scratch the vast surface but it gives ambitious insights into an exciting area of study emerging in and about the Caribbean region – and may even include what some are calling the Caribbean Diaspora. (This is probably a new name for George Lamming’s term of the region’sexternal frontiers.”)

An epic poem like Nativity may be Sekou’s attempt at an ambitious poem.
In the nine-strophes of Nativity the poet brazenly draws relationships into and from the region, exposes critical details and references. Not even children’s games, Santo Domingo jumbie names, Chinese immigrants, Indian indentured, or “the battery flesh of Brimstone Hill labor” (page 13) are immune from his “journeying” pen strokes.

Sekou shoots out this “bare” globe-hopping data as verse, as if from the Great Salt Pond, “through barren wilds of fields & foundries” (Nativity, page 1).

Hopefully the UWI students were exposed to interpreting aspects of the elements that Nativity chronicles, elemental to and generative of the peoples, cultures, histories, politics, geographies, and economies that are forging our Caribbean civilization,” said Sekou.

UWI describes the 3-credit course as one “designed to develop an awareness of the main process of cultural development in Caribbean societies, highlighting the factors, … that have fed the emergence of Caribbean identities. To develop a perception of the Caribbean as wider than island nations or linguistic blocs. To stimulate students’ interest in, and commitment to Caribbean civilization and to further their self-determination.”

So is Nativity, with its English, French, and Spanish versions in the one book, along with its extensive glossary, a fitting poem for such a fundamental course? Canadian researcher and author Afua Cooper seems to think so: “If I were to choose a text to teach the African Diaspora, it would be Nativity because it opens up multiple poetic portals into the vast dimension of Black people and their life story.”

Nativity can be used in courses on poetry, literature, culture, history, anthropology, ethnography, writing, politics, mathematics, religion, romance, performance, dance, architecture, maritime studies, environmental studies, and science.”

It can also be used as a reference to tell the intersectional global story of Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Asia,” wrote Cooper in her introduction to the trilingual edition of Nativity.

Professor Conrad James used Nativity in 2010, as a required text in his Latin American and Caribbean Studies class at the University of Birmingham, England.

According to James, “Nativity is a quintessentially Caribbean work. It is partly this commitment to understanding the Caribbean in regional rather than narrow national terms, which accounts for the brilliant erudition of the text” by Sekou.

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