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Tweeëntwintigste Literaire Vertaaldagen

Op vrijdag 15 januari vindt als onderdeel van de online vertaalateliers van het Nederlandse Vertalershuis als atelier 4 een vertalersdriehoek plaats met drie deelnemers: Carel de Haseth, Franc Knipscheer, Olga Rojer. Het atelier gaat over het vertalen van en naar het Papiaments.

read on…

Slave and Master, a significant contribution to the Dutch Antillean literary canon

by Daniel Arbino, University of Minnesota

Olga Rojer and Joseph Aimone’s second installment of Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean brings us Carel de Haseth’s Katibu di Shon [Slave and Master] (1988), a short historical fiction of the unsuccessful slave revolt led by Tula in Curacao in 1795. The characters are based on historical figures, showcasing both Haseth’s historical research and his ability to creatively re-imagine it for his story. The novel alternates narration between Luis, a rebellious slave, and Welmu, his master. Originally written in Papiamentu, the work vindicates the language, popularly used in poetry, in prose form. Undoubtedly, it is “one of the most important pieces of serious fiction in Papiamentu produced by an author native to the islands” (p. 3). Furthermore, the novel, as expounded by Rojer and Aimone, continues an evolving paradigm set forth by Cola Debrot and Boeli van Leeuwen, de Haseth’s predecessors and two of the region’s most important writers. Rojer and Aimone’s previous effort realized the translations of Debrot’s My Black Sister (1934) and van Leeuwen’s A Stranger on Earth (1962) and the two editors do a commendable job of intertextualizing the three works in Slave and Master‘s introduction.

According to the editors, the three texts engage in an inter-generational dialogue and revise one another in terms of racial sentiment on the island. This is most explicitly distinguished through the voice that de Haseth gives Luis, thus moving away from solely speaking through the plantocracy. What is more, noticeably absent in all three novels, as the editors rightly point out, is the Black woman’s voice, but that is not to say that Black women’s roles are unimportant. Still, one hopes that Rojer and Aimone’s next selection to translate might further this thematic evolution and include one. With that being said, one need not read their prior publication in order to understand the analysis that they offer, and surely not to delve deep into the novel.

Not only does the introduction offer an analysis of Slave and Master in conjunction with previous Dutch Caribbean works, but it also illuminates various contexts that demonstrate the novel’s significance. Aside from the customary background information on de Haseth, Rojer and Aimone have summarized the colonial history and the development and characteristics of slavery in Curacao. This in turn leads them to discuss the influence of Papiamentu and how it has aided to differentiate Curaçaoan identity from that of their former European power. The linguistic difference and the intimacy of slavery, here exemplified by de Haseth’s novel, coupled with the ongoing theme of liberation, makes a text that is set in 1795 relevant to the twenty-first century, particularly in view of the declaration of Curaçaoan autonomy on October 10, 2010. In doing so, defiant slaves of the colonial period like Luis and Tula become postcolonial heroes.

In the text, a more personal story emerges between Welmu and Luis as they recount their versions of the revolt: a childhood friendship gone awry because of a shared love interest, a slave named Anita. This particular love triangle takes a unique turn in that both men rape Anita, who continues to love them both equally. Moreover, Luis imagines he is raping Welmu’s wife as he violates Anita, which further complicates these relationships.

Masculinized vengeance and racial tension play out literally on her body. Although Anita, along with the realities of slave/master relationships, divides the two men, she ultimately brings them back together. At her urging, Welmu, who now lives with her, visits the captured Luis prior to his public execution and leaves Luis the knife that serves as the key to his own emancipation. Interpreting Anita’s role proves to be challenging for both this author and Rojer and Aimone. They deem that Anita is a Christ figure whose forgiveness and unconditional love reconciles tensions between the two men (18-19). Yet one should not mistake the reconciliation between the two men to be representative of racial relations within the insular society. After the two men share their cathartic moment, Black women are still relegated to the role of mistress and Afro-Curaçaoans are still a subordinate and disillusioned societal sector. Shon Welmu, supposedly transformed by this experience, continues denying his slaves manumission; fellow plantation owners follow suit (63). To that end, Slave and Master can be read as splintering Caribbean society just as much as Rojer and Aimone’s interpretation that the text reconciles it.

Scène uit de opera Katibu di Shon

Though the love triangle remains the focus of Rojer and Aimone’s analysis, other rich themes abound, such as the existential psychological crises occurring on both sides of the racial divide. Luis struggles to make sense of a fruitless life with little chance of social mobility (44). He is left to hope that his participation in the rebellion as well as his death will inspire change and emancipation for his people. Welmu, on the other hand, must deal with the warring recognition of the impending decline of the plantocracy and the guilt of his inhuman actions as slave-owner (66). Another of the novel’s noteworthy themes is de Haseth’s insistence that both sides need each other to make society function, as they are “both children of this piece of rock here” (67). Finally, Luis’s own personal experience of the Middle Passage when he, as a prisoner, is transported by schooner from one part of the island to Willemstad (p. 47) provides a gripping reminder of the trauma present in a book whose translation into English maintains its powerful imagery.

Presented to us for the first time in English, Slave and Master is a significant contribution to the Dutch Antillean literary canon and a pertinent text for those interested in historical fictions as well as Caribbean and postcolonial literatures. Furthermore, Anita’s role would make for a valuable analysis in courses dedicated to issues of gender and race.

Rojer, Olga E. and Joseph O. Aimone, eds. Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean: Carel de Haseth’s Slave and Master (Katibu di Shon). New York: Peter Lang, 2011.

[Review in: Journal of Caribbean Literatures. Volume: 7. Issue: 1 Publication date: Fall 2011 [= September 2013].]

Carel de Haseth vertaald in het Engels

Carel de Haseth’s novella Slave and Master (Katibu di Shon), written in the Creole language Papiamentu, dramatizes the August 17, 1795 slave revolt on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. The story is told through an alternating series of dramatic monologues by two key characters: Luis, a slave, and a leader of the revolt; and Shon Welmu, his childhood friend and white heir to the slave plantation. The exposition begins shortly after the revolt has been crushed, as Luis awaits his brutal execution, and it ends with his preemptive suicide. The theme is the acceptance of the inevitability of emancipation. Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean: Carel de Haseth’s Slave and Master (Katibu di Shon) is suitable for courses on Caribbean literature and postcolonial literature and will be of great interest to readers of fiction in general. Because of the striking ease with which students with a modest competency in Romance languages can make out Papiamentu, we have issued this bilingual, facing-pages edition of the text to lend it more usability in classroom situations.

Carel de Haseth, born in Curaçao, is an award-winning author of poetry and fiction, who writes in both Papiamentu and Dutch. De Haseth is also a statesman, who has held important government posts, including as Minister Plenipotentiary of the Netherlands Antilles at The Hague, and as advisor to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles from 2006 to 2010.

Carel de Haseth, foto @ Michiel van Kempen

Olga E. Rojer is Associate Professor of German Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. She is author of Exile in Argentina: 1933–1945 (Peter Lang, 1989) and co-editor and translator of Founding Fictions of the Dutch Caribbean: Cola Debrot’s My Black Sister and Boeli van Leeuwen’s A Stranger on Earth (Peter Lang, 2007) with Joseph O. Aimone.

Joseph O. Aimone is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Houston Downtown. His collaborative translations with Olga E. Rojer of Dutch and Papiamentu literature from the Dutch Caribbean have been published widely. He has also published poetry and literary criticism.

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