“Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies and the new (carry/beyond) faculty of interpretation”
From an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, on the other side of the (new) world, in the bowels of the North and atop the South American continent, sounds of freedom have echoed across the globe. One writer has gone as far as describing this space, “Dr. Satan’s Echo Chamber” (Chude-Sokei 1997). Whatever the narrative, there is a consistent reputation for high levels of thinking, particularly on ideas of African liberation, freedom and justice from a pantheon of thinkers who wittingly or unwittingly through their potpourri of cadences perform the task of de facto ambassadors.Engaged in the modern world system through the Columbian American mercantile practices—Jamaica, from the earliest records of the first settled Western Europeans (the Spanish, later overrun by British pirates), has been fingered as the source of hiccups and disquiet among “subjects of the empire”—and the origin of reverberations which shook the structures of the plantation praxis.
Plantation imagination and historical accounting has been a dominant part of the Caribbean language of discourse and inquiry—and has shaped the colonial margins such spaces occupy. Out of such backwaters no civilization was expected to thrive. Indeed only the basic raw materials, primary products—crude sugar, green bananas, and later bauxite—dirt from which aluminium is extracted—were expected to originate in this space. This was the intended habitat of Caliban (Bogues 1997; Henry 2000), captured natives, bodies of muscles and energy to be driven as chattel. These were the “savages” requiring the “civilizing mission” from the saviour Prospero—the provider of knowledge, morals, virtues of western capitalism, and the new religion. African males were emasculated and in instances rendered absent within the space of family and paternity. This is the landscape in which Stuart Hall was born one hundred years after this model had been undergoing a systematic and often violent march towards transformation. Born in a rural agricultural community, Hall, a multi-racial Jamaican, stood as an embodied reminder of the plantation experience. He carried connections to the first Africans imported from West Africa and enslaved. But his ancestry also connected to the planter classes—Portuguese and Spanish Jews who were among the earliest settlers to arrive in the 1490s—and who stood effectively as the surrogate parents for all within the plantation empire. Hall also bore a visible resemblance to the Asians who arrived in the region as indentured workers sourced from India after the British Slave Emancipation in 1834, and remained and integrated with the Africans present.
Jahlani A.H. Niaah holds a PhD in Cultural Studies and is the Coordinator of the Rastafari Studies Unit, at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus.