‘There is No Female Word for Busha in These Parts’: Zora Neale Hurston, Katherine Dunham and Women’s Experience in 1930s Haiti and Jamaica

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Abstract

Dunham refers to having 'invaded the Caribbean' in her 1969 book Island Possessed (3), the title of which puns on multiple forms of 'possession', while in her 1938 account of her Caribbean travels, Tell My Horse, Hurston playfully imagines herself as 'President of Haiti', appointing US-trained Colonel Calixe of the Haitian national guard as her military head (89). [...]both Hurston and Dunham were circumspect about anthropology's pretensions as a neutral 'science', and challenged the conventions of anthropological writing by foregrounding their subjective viewpoints and employing irony, ambiguity and creative license in ways which expose the limits of their capacity to 'know' Caribbean cultures authoritatively.1 This common ground suggests the two women might productively have worked together. [...]the patronizing register in which Hurston presents gender relations 'down there'-a phrase repeated thrice (58-9)-is part of the complex performance in which an othered southern space serves less as a foil than an ironic mirror for US American ways, but in which observation of local experiences remains important. [...]the idea of American superiority on sex matters is shaken when Dunham alludes to the widespread sexual abuse and exploitation of Haitian women by US marines during the occupation, which had been documented and publicised by the NAACP and others (Renda 163, 190). Yet this is a power dependent on exaggerated femininity, since Erzulie Frieda is a beautiful (and light-skinned) young woman 'worshipped for her perfection in giving herself to mortal man' (121). [...]Hurston's Erzulie will 'tolerate no female rival' but seeks to 'frustrate all the plans and hopes' of young women (121-2).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-176
Number of pages19
JournalAustralian Humanities Review
Issue number64
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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