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Reggae as Subaltern Knowledge: Representations of Christopher Columbus as a Construction of Alternative Historical Memory

  • Author(s): Arbino, Daniel
  • et al.

In this article, I examine how identity is not being “rediscovered” in reggae music, but rather produced through a re-telling of history that blends trauma and witnessing. Albert Memmi underscores the importance of re-telling history in The Colonizer and the Colonized (1957) when he rightly declares that the greatest consequence of colonialism was the exclusion of the colonized from both history and their community (151). Representations of Christopher Columbus, largely through first-person testimony, illustrate a metonym for how reggae music can be useful for the diffusion and endurance of a counter-discursive epistemology to undermine Western knowledge and culture as hegemonic. These musicians re-write themselves into history and forge a community by raising doubts over the problematic encounter between Columbus and indigenous peoples, an encounter often perceived as one of the fundamental moments for the development of modern American civilization. Such a project is not unique to Jamaica. According to Kenyan postcolonial theorist Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, “most national liberation movements start by rejecting the culture of the colonizer, by repudiating the religion of the oppressing nation and class and the entire education system of the colonizer” (27). Although not a liberation movement in and of itself, reggae and Rastafari have sought to revise history since for these musicians, the “truth” surrounding the encounter has been one-sided and misrepresented. Indeed, in Reggae Wisdom (2001), Anand Prahlad discusses how reggae musicians take on the role of teacher in order to “focus on specific areas of history and culture that have been distorted by the texts found in colonial school systems or in other forms of hegemonic propaganda” (33). Reggae musicians, in an act of counter-discursive difference, reduce Columbus, viewed as heroic in the Western world (the United States still celebrates Columbus Day as an official holiday), to a liar, thief, slaver, and pedophile. Central to the alternative epistemology in reggae is the revision of Western historical figures often credited with Western expansion to present him as a villain of the Antilles.

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