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Cooking up the ’Calaloo’ nation: gender, race and national cuisine in the imagining of Trinidad and Tobago Naidu, Surya


This thesis discusses the formation of a national cuisine in post-colonial Trinidad and Tobago. Tracing national identity through cultural and political manipulations of food by elites and ordinary citizens, I have attempted to build a context for understanding the nature of nationbuilding, as well as the specific impact of race relations on conceptions of 'nation'. I conclude that the 'nation' is imagined by elites in accordance with international standards of nationhood, while its everyday construction is derived from a less formal pattern. In fact, the average citizen's idea about nationhood is produced out of a sense of community and divisions between communities set in the colonial period. While the government, major industries, and commercial interests attempt to refashion the previously colonized space of the twin islands into a productive and internationally acceptable terrain, local interest groups defend practices that have grown up in indigenous historical contexts. The 'Black Power' movement clearly articulates this entrenchment of the 'local' culture and economy in its critique of the 'progress' driven elite. Furthermore, women and the Indian minority population resist official representations of the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, denying the validity of the 'calaloo' nation. Not wishing to be a part of a mixed stew that in effect negated their historical struggles, both women and Indians erect boundaries and demarcate the limits of the nation. The Indian woman sits uncomfortably on the threshold of nationhood, acting as a border marker for both her community and for the outer limits of the nation. As an antiquated figure, the Indian woman is cherished by both Black and Indian men as a remnant of the colonial past. Once 'creolized' or assimilated into the mainstream culture, the Indian woman poses a threat to the purity of the Indian community, as well as the black or Creole community. The enforced purity of the Indian woman's cuisine opposes the 'calaloo' nation cooked up by the elite of Trinidad and Tobago, and surfaces 'race' and 'gender' tensions that stir within the 'calaloo' pot.

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