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Bodies, memories, and empire : life stories about growing up in Jamaica 1943-1965 Brown, Yvonne Salome

Abstract

"What's a mother?" is the first and most significant question I remember asking as a child. It led to another: "Who is my mother?" Particular events, people, and landscapes of my past in Jamaica beckoned me to return to the land of my birth to search for the answers to these two questions. Once begun, the investigation raised more questions: Without a mother to give me a sense of self, then 'Who am I?' - 'Who have I become?' - 'What forces have shaped my character and my outlook on life?'. I use my body as a living archive from which to retrieve fragmentary details from inestimable amounts of data, stored in the conscious and the unconscious. I construct life stories that blend fictional and non-fictional elements. Conversations with Caribbean friends and acquaintances both prompt my memory and elaborate details. Caribbean fiction writers provide models for representing the human condition of Caribbean peoples. Diaries of slavers and plantation owners, primary documents obtained from the National Archives of Jamaica, and the libraries of the University of the West Indies provide further data. I include observations and informed accounts of my travels along the colonial trails. These life stories are about my motherlust, my family, my church, my schooling and political moments in the history of the island we call Jamaica. History and politics explain the social phenomena that emerge. In composing these narratives, I speak in three embodied voices: the subject, researcher, and author. I bring in the voices of significant family members, teachers, preachers, friends and the folk in the Jamaican patois. These stories attest to the truth-value of genetic, autobiographical, topographical, and archival memory as matrices within which to conduct narrative inquiry into one's origin. Embedded within these stories are lessons about identity formation, curricular policy, schooling and the content of a colonial education, the subjugation of the history of African people in New World slavery, and critiques of multiculturalism and globalization. It is my aim that in reading these stories, students, teachers, educational and community leaders will appreciate the generative potential of repressed memories.

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