Paule Marshall in her essay “Poets in the Kitchen” outlines what it was like to grow up in a family that came from the tiny island of Barbados in the West Indies. She discuss not only the things she saw that made her the person she was today, but also what inspired her to write the way she does. The history of Barbados explains a lot of the experiences that Paule Marshall writes about in “Poets in the Kitchen” and gives an interesting look into that life.
The early history of Barbados is a very fascinating one. The island was first inhabited by the Arawak Indians that came from Venezuela by dugout canoes. One of the things that sticks out about these Indians is the extremes they would go to look attractive. They would tie the foreheads of their infants to slope their heads to a point (Barbados Culture: the Abbreviated History of Barbados ). This is strikingly similar to the tradition that Marshall mentions in her essay of “the bellyband that is tied around the stomach of a newborn baby to keep the navel pressed in” (Marshall, 2001). It seems that the tradition of going to extremes to be, what the people around them view as, good looking did not stay in Barbados when Marshall’s relatives left.
After the Arawak Indians, the Carib Indians came to Barbados. They were cannibals and would use a very powerful toxin on their arrows to paralyze their victims to prepare them to be eaten (Barbados Culture: the Abbreviated History of Barbados ). The Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos landed on the island in 1536 while he was on his way to Brazil to trade. He did not clam the island but named it Los Barbados which means the ‘Bearded One’. Many historians believe the name comes from the islands fig trees that have hanging aerial roots that give the trees a bearded look (History of Barbados ). The English were the next to settle Barbados in 1625 and it became a British Colony in 1627. The Island was made into a thriving sugar cane producing colony, however the poor living conditions and horrible treatment of the slaves used to produce the sugar was too much. The slaves revolted in 1816, but slavery as a whole was not abolished in Barbados until 1834 (History of Barbados ). The Island remained basically stable until 1930 when an economic Depression hit which caused riots and many of the people to leave to the country. It is quite possible that this is when Paule Marshall’s relatives came over to America. Barbados remained a British colony until 1966 when they declared full independence and joined the United Nations in 1967. Now, tourism, like many of the smaller Caribbean islands, is the driving force behind Barbados’s economy.
While it is always interesting to see where a writer gets his or her inspiration, sometimes it is even more interesting to examine the culture that he or she came from. In Paule Marshall’s case, by looking at the history of the country that her relatives came from we can see where many of the traditions she talks about in “Poets” came from.
Barbados Culture: the Abbreviated History of Barbados . (n.d.). Retrieved from Barbados.org: http://www.barbados.org/history1.htm
History of Barbados . (n.d.). Retrieved from accessbarbados.com: http://www.accessbarbados.com/barbados_history.php
Marshall, P. (2001). Poets in the Kitchen. Johns Hopkins University Press.