Abrahim H. Khan


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My basic contention is that the notion of Caribbean identity does not conceptually cohere with notions of personhood for culturally diverse groups5 of people forming the socio-historical reality of the geographical region, and therefore is suspect. Further, "Caribbean identity" is in itself an internally incoherent expression, which appears to be intelligible in ordinary speech.  Its apparent intelligibility rests on a confusion of at least two types of identity, and a misconstrual in language or category mistake. In short, the notion is problematic, much more than might be suspected on a surface inspection.

To focus sharply the contention, I pose the following simple question: Is a Caribbean identity a challenge or threat to personhood? Not easily answered, the question has at least two terms of which each has an intricate meaning complex: identity and personhood. Each of them therefore requires glossing to shed light on aspects of the meaning complex relevant to the question, and
consequently to establishing plausibility for the case that an invented Caribbean identity is more a threat than a challenge. Of the two terms "personhood" is the more intricate one6. It is a cognate of the word "person" and refers to the quality of becoming a person.

The idea of Indian identity is one of the markers of the cultural unconscious in contemporary Caribbean literature. It is associated with values and conventions of thinking which the literature reflects. Together, they imply an assumption that ignores important differences in the particularities of socio-ethnic experience of groups expressing East-Indianness in the Caribbean region. The literature gives no hint that Indian identity is itself a complex and problematic idea, at least on a theoretical level, let alone the  relation between it and religion. Instead, it gives the semblance of being inclusive of differences in the East Indian population. At bottom, however, its representation is flawed and thus provides impetus for the following shikwa/complaint: The literature is misleading for those readers, whether inside or outside the lndo-Caribbean region, wanting to learn and reflect about how they become persons in affirming Indian identity with respect to their religious tradition, and about the world of the Indo-Caribbean community with its religious differences and social similarities.

 "Coolies" arrived from India at Trinidad Depot

This essay, elaborating the complaint, problematizes Indian identity in the Caribbean from two dimensions.  One of these is the meaning complex of the idea which consists in various shades that are dialectically related. But, the assumption and conventions of thinking to which the cultural unconscious in literature demonstrates obedience take Indian identity to have a single shade, or narrow meaning, one delineated in terms of a specific religious tradition. The literature, in this respect, makes hegemonic one shade in the meaning complex and thus marginalizes non-Hindus within the East Indian population. To clarify its different shades we begin by tracing preoccupation with East-Indianness and hence lay out aspects relative to the complaint.

 

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