Monday, 31 August 2020

Vibration from Palampalam - A Young Man Makes Life In Jamaica

The beauty of an allegorical story is that it is open to interpretation, you fill in the blanks or undo the mysticism in the search of the underlying point of the story and on the way, make other discoveries.

Vibration from Palampalam A Novel by Dorrell Wilcott published by Arawak publications in 2012, leaves me with the impression that although this book is not an allegory, the author is deliberately misleading the reader by skipping over and around situations that should be important to the story and yet expending description and commentary on seemingly lesser matters. The reader is left wondering about the reason for the deliberate gaps and the mystery behind what was paid careful attention  

The modest 142 pages is an action packed story of the life arc of the protagonist Dalphus Congonza. It starts with his parents' stories and ends with a look at the adult start-up of his progeny.  This completeness of a life story suggests that it is a memoir, but a memoir that does not trust the reader, so while it is not the story of an airbrushed hero, the material feels redacted and so, incomplete.

The foreword by Patrick Bryan is helpful in explaining the protagonist when he says, "First, his ambition is to throw off the scars and the negative features of that childhood, and to succeed in spite of them. Second, and in contraction, some of the values that he disdains and which contributed to the disfunctionality of his family became a part of his own value system."

    "The novel is not preoccupied with race and colour. However, they both have an enormous inflience in shaping the lives of people and contributing to the dysfunction within the Dalphus' family," Bryan says.

Dalphus grew up with minimal education in Palampalam which was supposed to be a frightfully haunted woodland within the rural community of Service. He is the only child in a family where there was no love among its three members. Even though Dalphus caused hurt to his mother early on, it was his childish reaction to her obvious scorn of him. Wilcott says of the mother, "who had seen everything that she disliked about her husband in that little boy." 

The natural environment of rural Jamaica is integrated into the book from beginning to end. Dalphus' father cleared dense woodland and built the family home; as an adult, Dalphus shaped a rocky hilltop overlooking the community of Service, for his own large and splendid house. Woodland was also where his closest friend died. Dalphus made his living from farming the rocky, land, but he did it successfully and managed to pass down the interest in farming to one of his sons.

Relationships between the character and the women in his life are complicated; his mother, lover, wife, mother-in-law, and elder daughter. He knows that he is not excelling in these relationships, but he displays incompetence in how to improve them, and relies on his friend Gus to play the role of conciliator and way-maker.

When he was just about out of his teens, he lived for a few years in Cuba and was able to work hard, take use of opportunities that came his way and save money. He is awkward with women but finds ways to incorporate them in his life. At a bar, Primela admires him and "he declined, almost becoming flustered", then "he looked at her again. The chemistry or whatever they used to call it mixed furiously."  He, quite easily, leaves Primela for Emma, which was a financial arrangement, "Dalphus had hitched a fee simple in Emma's financial empire."

Later back in Service as a married man, his mother-in-law is banned from his home for her destructive slander, and his eldest daughter, the apple of his eye, disappoints when she marries against his wishes.

Dalphus' relationships with men seem steady and true and valuable, aside from Bandy-Leg who tried to take sexual advantage of him as a naive teenager. Gustavius became a lifelong confidante, and wise counsellor for both himself and his wife, the beautiful, educated and unworldly Odagled who defied her family to marry him. 

As a businessman, Dalphus understands and is not held down by society's prejudices that were against him for reasons of his colour and lack of education. He worked around the established religious institution, the police force, financial institutions and even his sometimes coveteous neighbours at Rico's Bar. He rises above those challenging situations and masters them. He also, somehow, becomes reconciled with his father, but did not with this mother. 

Here we arrive at the rock bottom of all of the story of Dalphus: the lack of a loving relationship with his mother, Tantal, which left him stone dead to anticipating and nurturing sensitivity in family and intimate relationships. By the end of the book, however, he is grateful to have actually shared loving moments with his wife and to have experienced love with his children. His children, however, were not a united family, each  one deciding to be set against the ways of the others. Dalphus did nothing to heal the rifts between the siblings, and was a participant by making it obvious that Daphnie was his "chosen one".

Wilcott's choice of what he paid great attention to writing about, was diverse. He set out the matters around the death of Gus in excruciating detail, yet the three marriages in the book were glossed over, or became commentaries on society in general. 

Dalphus witnessed physical violence in his home, as his father beat his mother, and we later learn that his father also regularly beat his longtime lover. These beatings were not described in the book, yet Wilcott did described how his father met retribution, the wounds that he suffered and his long convalescence.   

The writer paid reverence to the very existence of Marcus Garvey who influenced Dalphus' father's philosophy and actions, but he does not go beyond this reverence to actually show the teachings in action, perhaps almost ignoring them. Wilcott also lets us know that Dalphus is distressed that descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the Americas had not built on the successes and sacrifices of the Haitian revolution.

It is a theory of mine that stories of relationships with the protagonist and his or her mother defines many contemporary books by Jamaicans. This book fits into that category. In these stories, the actions of the mother greatly influence the success or failure of the protagonist. Applying this scrutiny to Tantal, the mother of Dalphus, she was ascribed only one action within her true control, her choice of husband Ciezo Congoza. Everything else about Tantal is ascribed to the society in which she lived. Tantal existed as a light-skinned Jamaican who was raised by a snobbish light-skinned Jamaican woman but yet Tantal chose to marry a dark skinned follower of the black liberation teachings of Marcus Garvey. Ciezo Congoza, beat his wife if he felt threatened by her words and also, and separately, neglected her for the more stimulating company of his lover in the town of Service. 

Dalphus was the victim of his mother's frustration about her husband and she transferred her prejudices to him, nurturing attitudes that would influence him to behave that he was better than, and different from the other children in Service. It also gave him resilience when facing prejudices against him and allowed him to simply walk over them towards his personal goals.

Many more ideas are not fully set out in the story leaving them open to interpret the true weight that they have on the protagonist, or not. Given the openness of this, readers will find it interesting to meander with Dalphus through his life in a Jamaica of once upon a time, but perhaps, still here with us.

END

For more discussion on mothers in books by Jamaicans, visit this link to another page on my blog




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