“Olive Senior’s Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage”. Интервью с Олив Сениор (на английском языке)

Olive Senior’s Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage

By Shana L. Calixte | Posted: February 28, 2005

encyclopedia.jpg Many of us know the taste of Jerk. But did you know that this form of cooking originated with the Incas from Peru and was used by the Maroons?

Or that the word dutchie stands for Dutch Pot?

Or that there are 10 distinctive types of cutlasses and over 60 different names for the tool?

All of these interesting and informative details about common words used by many of us in the Caribbean come from the extensively researched Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage by international award-winning Jamaican-born writer, Olive Senior.

This recent work, published by Twin Guinep in Kingston and winner of the Jamaica Publishers Association Award for Best Reference Book in 2004 , boasts over 500 pages of reference material with over 1000 alphabetically arranged entries that cover common (and some not so common) words from Jamaican folklore, historic people and places, cultural activities, economic life and the natural world.

With stunning colour and black and white images, this encyclopedia documents the diverse history that is not always written down and of course produced from the grassroots, from the ground up. As Senior, who currently lives in Toronto states of her own growing up in Jamaica and discovery of her world, “…my first teachers the sometimes unlettered folk who were nevertheless capable of ‘reading’ the world around them in sight, sound, colour, gesture, meaning, utility and relationship to mankind.”

The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage, put together over a span of almost 20 years, brings together a mass of information that, according to Senior, contributes to the formation of a Jamaican national heritage and identity. Yet, as Senior states, these entries will have resonance beyond Jamaica, as this knowledge will be shared by many in the Caribbean; “…we [Jamaicans] also share much of what is contained within this book with other members of our Caribbean ‘tribe’….We might do things differently and we often call things by different names…but the common ground we share is as remarkable as our differences.”

As Dr. Edward Braugh, Professor at the University of the West Indies had to say about the compilation, “This is a handsome book, wonderfully well produced, a joy to look at, to handle, to roam around in, to learn from. . . . Ideally, every home should have this book, every school library.”

SeniorOlive.jpg We caught up with Senior to speak a little bit about the encyclopedia, the story it tells, and that very important question: how we come to define that nebulous concept of ‘heritage’.

Could you tell us a little bit about the Encyclopedia?

To some extent it’s a reference book as it is encyclopedic in scope. I also wrote it in the hopes that Jamaicans would just pick it up, open it anywhere and learn something about themselves. So it’s written in a very accessible style.

It covers a whole lot of different areas whether history, nature and the environment, plants, animals…it is quite comprehensive. Also, it has about 800 illustrations which are meant to extend the text. In other words they’re not just there for the sake of having a picture, they’re also part of the story. As a reference book I think it would be useful for not only students and teachers, but libraries, translators…

You mentioned that the images are a part of the story – what story are you trying to tell?

The story of Jamaican heritage. Both the written heritage, you know the history, but the heritage that is also visible in historic buildings and so on. I’m personally very interested in the contribution made by the oral culture as well. Any one entry might be a mixture of what’s written, what’s in the official records, but also I put in quotations from songs, from sayings, from folk beliefs and so on. I’m trying to cover the entire Jamaican experience, and not just the heritage representing one set of people. I take a holistic approach. To me, every aspect of heritage is important; I’m not trying to elevate one aspect over another. I think they’re all part of making us who we are.

For example, if I have an entry on a particular plant, I would have all the scientific information (the botanical name), but I’d also have the folks names. And I would have what the scientists have to say, but I would also talk about how it’s used say in Jamaica in folk medicine or if there are any folks beliefs surrounding that. So it’s a composite of both the written, the historic and the oral.

You named the book Encyclopedia of Jamaican heritage – what does the heritage part mean?

People use the word heritage very loosely. People talk about Jamaican heritage and say it’s reggae. As if that’s all there is. Or dancehall. Or people who come from the elite may think heritage is only in the historic buildings or what is known as “high culture”, the culture inherited from England. And what I’m trying to show is that heritage is something that we all experience and that we all contribute to. It’s important for me from that point of view. I wasn’t just putting a book together, I had this consciousness that I wanted to present it in this way.

What has been the response to the book?

The Jamaicans here (Canada) who have seen it are very enthusiastic. I think it does two things. One, for young people who don’t know very much about the culture, it’s opening a lot doors on to that culture, giving a lot of information. But for older people, it’s both a question of reminding them about things that they knew, or things that they thought they knew. Because we all grow up knowing things or thinking that we know things and then being quite surprised to find out that say their origins or meanings or so on are quite different from what they thought. So it’s sort of a reinforcement of what’s familiar, but it’s also I think bringing in a lot that would be new to people. And was new to me when I was doing the research.