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12.2 Roseau in beaux arts

In literature, Roseau has not usually been decribed in a very positive manner. Especially non-Dominican travel writers have given some unpleasant descriptions of the city. Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1909, cit. Andre 1995: 4), for instance, describes Roseau as a 'hot, steaming mud hole [--] entirely inhabited by barefooted Negroes'.

In the beginning of the 20th century Roseau was home for 7,000 of Dominica's 40,000 inhabitants. Blacks where migrating to work to Panama and to the Dominican Republic in large numbers. Their number was not declining, however, but that of the small white population of some 300 people was. A colonial officer, James Anthony Froude, cautioned as early as in 1887 that the white population was virtually disappearing. The few whites were clustered into several locations in the town: alongside Queen Street (now Victoria Street) between High Street and Newtown Savannah, in the proximity of the Catholic and Anglican churches, and alongside Market Street (now King George V Street). In the corner of Cork and Queen Mary Streets--in the building which now houses Vena's Guest House--resided the family of Jean Rees-Williams (later Jean Rhys) who was to become probably the most recognised Dominican writer since that (Andre 1995: 49, 55-56).

Jean Rhys (1890-1979) migrated to Europe when she was sixteen. Many of her works, however, contain direct or indirect references to her childhood in Dominica. According to Marja-Leena Hakkarainen (1998: 157), Rhys' work is characterised by the experience of double outsideness. As a white Creole she was outsider both in Europe and in the West Indies. According to Irving W. Andre (1995: 60-61), the white inhabitants of Dominica formed their own mini-society with as few contacts to the coloured and the black as possible. He says that 'young Jean Rhys may have harboured a secret longing to be black'. In her incomplete autobiography Smile Please, Rhys writes about how her envy to the black people: 'They [blacks] were more alive, more part of the place than we were' (Rhys 1979: 50).

Some fifty years after Rhys' departure, it was easier for a white Creole to be an active member of Dominican society. Phyllis Shand Allfrey returned from England in 1953 and was one of the founders of Dominica Labour Party, the first political party in Dominica (Honychurch 1995a: 230). Allfrey's novel The Orchid House can be read as a description of post-war Dominica in the genre of social realism (Andre 1995: 30).

In Allfrey's novel the emerge of suburban residential areas of Goodwill and St. Aromant and the relative decline in the appreciation of Central Roseau as a place to live are shown. St. Aromant represents an area where ascendant coloured middle-class lives. The fictitious white family of the novel has descented into relative poverty and its residence is situated in low-lying Central Roseau (Andre 1995: 33). 'Orchid House' of the novel is Kingsland House which was located on King George V Street. It was the house of Allfrey's grand-father Dr. Henry Nicholls who had an extensive garden around the building. Kingsland House was demolished in the 1960s and is nowadays the site of Astaphan's supermarket (Pattullo & Jno Baptiste 1998: 21-22).

Allfrey was expelled from the Labour Party in 1962. With its leader Edward O. Le Blanc the party gained high popularity amongst the Dominicans and was able to remain in power till 1979 when Prime Minister Patrick John had to resign due to loss of confidence in the House of Assembly. The party's success was largely based on the support of rural voters. Le Blanc had a personal distrust towards the farmer-merchants and professionals of Roseau, identified by Labour as the mulatto gros bourg. The distrust was shared by many rural people. Nevertheless, Roseau-based Freedom Party was able to win the elections of 1980 and hold the majority of seats in the Assemby for fifteen years under the leadership of Caribbean's first female Prime Minister, Mary Eugenia Charles (Honychurch 1995a: 233, 235, 267; see also Andre 1995: 85). Labour Party regained its power in the elections of 2000.

Distrust towards the elite of Roseau has persisted, however. In his poem The Peasant's Encounter, Ras Mo (Desmond Moses) portrays the Civil Servants of Roseau who lack sympathy for the business of a rural peasant.

The stench of scorching asphalt
mixes with the breeze
moulded as one they flutter flags
where white collar natives
with cigarette stained finger-tips
dinger files of black and white... [--]
(Moses 1990: 20, cit. Andre 1995: 129)
But more and more people live now in Roseau, and many of them have spent also their childhood there. Gabriel J. Christian (1999) has written a collection of short stories Rain on a Tin Roof about his childhood and teenage years in Goodwill. The name of the collection comes after the reassuring sound of rain dropping on his family's tin roof after Hurricane David in 1979 when many of their neigbours no more had roofs on.

In paintings, Roseau is often portrayed as an old, traditional city. Wooden buildings with open verandah's as well as modest Dominica houses have been painted by various artists. Ellingworth Moses (Fig. 50), who has painted several streetscapes of Roseau and the villages of Dominica, says that he prefers to paint the old buildings because of all the corruption and greediness that the modern buildings bring to his mind. This is also why there are usually only few or no people in his paintings but the streets are almost empty. Moses himself is not a Roseauan but lives in the village of Stowe on the south coast, two kilometres to the east from a larger village of Grand Bay. According to him, Roseau is too noisy and hot that he could ever think of living there (Moses 1999).

Earl Etienne, on the other hand, who is probably the best known Dominican artist abroad, paints people to his cityscapes. He uses intensive colours, and his paintings are full of live. The tradition, however, is important element in his image of Roseau, too. He stresses the importance of the traditional aspects of the Market place, presented for instance in his work Plantain Vendor (Fig. 51). According to him, even if the market has changed place its role in the city is still the same as it has always been: to serve as a centre of local activity (Etienne 1999).

  


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