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The Writerly Pursuit

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 22, 2011

A writer does not write in isolation nor does he always know for whom he writes. A socially-conscious writer, as I see myself, always writes with a purpose. Sometimes it's to entertain; mostly, it is meant to educate oneself and his public. From that mix one cannot remove the sheer bliss that one finds in writing and yes, even the pleasure of seeing one's name in print.

It's a fascination I have had for a long time. At the age of about twenty one when my first published article was published in the Trinidad Guardian—it was about the Mighty Sparrow appearing at Carnegie Hall—in 1969 it was the proudest moment in my life. Months later, I wrote about the Trinidad origins of Black Power in the same newspaper, when I made the link between Richard Wright devoting his book, White Man Listen to his friend, Dr. Williams, and Stokley Carmichael (later Kwame Toure), the person that popularized the term being of Trinidad birth.

Those experiences thrilled me and, with it, came the urge—almost impulsively—to share that knowledge with my brothers and sisters and to write my way into knowledge, the sensation being that you may know a thing but only when you put it on paper then you are forced to examine it in ways that you may not have been able to do if you only read it and kept it to and for yourself.

This impulse to writing is a fantastic thing. Some years ago (I also returned earlier this year) I visited Elimna Castle in Ghana, the slave port from which Africans were shipped to the Americas. After that horrible experience—I could not enter the "Room of No Return—my first sensation was to put my thoughts on paper to come to terms with the trauma that assailed me.

I have been writing for newspapers and other media outlets for a little over forty years. I took my first tentative steps in 1968 when I wrote for my university newspaper—Fordham's Curved Horn—about the attempt of parents from Ocean Hill, Brownsville in New York to control the education their children received. I had come out of the nationalist movement in Trinidad-led by Dr. Williams and the PNM—and had devoted my life to assisting in the liberation struggle of African peoples wherever they found themselves.

This preamble—it was not intended to be so long—comes out in response to a learned posts by "Ah Tacariguan" to my article, "Messengers of the Invisible," that appeared in the Trinidad Mirror and This intelligent reader took objections to aspects of my article and offered her/his objections. Necessarily I could deal with the many valid points that s/he made. One never has enough time to do deal with all of the implications of any topic in an article of 1,000 words that my editor allows me.

However, I say the following to my respondent. If you examine my forty years of writing you will find that I have written about many things; more about black and the Caribbean people than anything else. My first book, Resistance and Caribbean Literature (1980) examined the role that resistance played in the making of the Caribbean and "resistance" as a metaphor in Caribbean literature. Experts in the field acknowledge that I was the first scholar in the world to use resistance as a literary aesthetic.

A few words about Tacarigua which my young reader felt I was dissing. In my article I used the phrase "reeking with culture" when I compared Paris with Tacarigua. The word reek means "a strong or disagreeable fume or order" which necessarily does not conjure the most pleasant or approving memory. I meant to suggest my anxiety about culture as it is associated with Paris and Europe by extension. In using that verb, I tried to pay cognizance of the validity of my friend's sentiments. It did not mean to suggest unvarnished praises for things European.

Many of my dear readers cannot know that I am a born and bred "distriker" as Tacariguians of my generation describe themselves. In 1985, I brought down a television crew from Cornell University and did a documentary on Tacarigua that has been shown on TTT (and channel 4) many times. It speaks about the richness of Tacarigua.

The documentary opens with a wonderful scene of tassa drumming; following by shots from a service at the St. Mary's Anglican Church, interspersed by interviews with Mr. Morrison of Caura; Mother Gerald, a famed orisha practitioner; Mr. Traboulay (having to change his name from Taroub Ali to send his child to a Christian high school); Fred and Hamilton Cudjoe, two of my uncles, and one of the oldest women in Tacarigua speaking in Hindu and her being translated by her daughter. The sister of M. P. Alladin, one of our earliest painters who introduced painting into our school's curriculum, narrated the documentary.

Ten years later, I wrote Tacarigua: A Village in Trinidad to celebrate the 350-year anniversary of Tacarigua. My commitment to my village and its people has been unwavering.

My people are from Tacarigua. My great grand father and great grand mother were born in Tacarigua in the 1830s. As faith would have it, doing research at the British National Archives this week, I discovered the story of a slave name Cudjoe who had come to the island (I am dying to say Tacarigua) in the 1760s and whose story is captured in a fascinating document.

I wrote on the Vodum exhibition because I wanted to remind readers that we should afford the same respect to Vodun and Shango which is one of the medium our people—African people on the continent and in the islands—use to get in touch with the divine or through which they try to explain the inexplicable. This is a common pursuit of most people in the world. It is what makes us human.

That is all I tried to say in my article.

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