In reading Patrick Chamoiseau’s novel, Texaco, I am struck by his attempt to create a mythology for the Caribbean people. William Bascom says in his essay, “The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives”, “Myths are prose narratives which, in the society in which they are told, are considered to be truthful accounts of what happened in the remote past” (Dundes 9). Chamoiseau brings the orally passed down myths and folklore to his novel. We have no way of knowing the truth behind the myths, but that is irrelevant. Trying to prove the elements in the myth as factual are contrary to the very existence of the myth.
At the heart of the matter, the creators of a myth are attempting to explain their world in a world absent of science and sophisticated tools of research. The peoples of the Caribbean do more than that; they attempt to preserve the myths of their African forebears. Like William Butler Yeats, Chamoiseau is faced with the difficult task of recording a nation’s myths, myths that have never before been recorded in any tangible form. The reader learns about sleep-women, quimboiseurs, and the Mentoh. Even the “long-one”, the snake emerges as a mythological creature similar to the Christians snake in the Garden of Eden.
In reading Texaco, the reader enters into the world of the Caribbean people; the reader enters into the myths. An important task for the reader is one of attempting to lay aside their own societal beliefs and expectations on it and enter into a world peopled with magical beings and powerful forces. This is how the listeners in Africa originally received the myth; a legacy passed from generation to generation explaining the world. This is a world that is moving through time and being lost by the wayside. Chamoiseau is brilliant in his attempt to keep that world alive.
The text Chamoiseau presents to us provides us with a picture of the cultural and sociological components of a society in transition. Myth “is not merely a story told but a reality lived” (Malinowski 198) and that is certainly true of the myths of the Caribbean people. The myths live on today in their reality, not for all, but for some – much as the Bible still remains truth – reality – for many of today’s Christians. The Greek, Irish, Finnish, Indian, Native American, and Mesopotamian myths have been recorded for the world to enjoy. Are the Caribbean myths not as important to record?
1. Dundes, Alan, ed. Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth. LA: University of California Press, 1984.
2. Segal, Robert A. Theorizing About Myth. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.