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Damas, météore

Kathleen Gyssels    Antwerp University, Belgique    

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abstract

In a collection of poetry, Mine de riens, published during the centennial year of his birth, Léon-Gontran Damas (1912-1978) paid tribute to the Amerindians by opening with a long poem which signified upon the masks ("mine" meaning 'expression', 'look', 'appearance', and, indeed 'mien') donned by the colonized indigenous population of the 'Eldorado' of the Guianas. In Mine de riens, he recalls the early exploitation of Native Americans as a cheap? labour-force in the Spanish gold mines. Damas also touches on other forgotten or taboo topics hitherto little represented in the literature of the Greater Caribbean, such as the sexual abuse of children (or 'minors', homonym of 'miners' in French), homoerotic desire (anticipating Christiane Taubira's quoting from Damas' Black-Label before the National Assembly in 2013 while defending gay marriage), and competing claims on historical commemoration in the French Republic (Jews and blacks being accorded unequal attention). The article also problematizes the neglect of Damas as co-founder of Negritude (with Senghor and Césaire), in sharp contrast to the attention paid to Glissant, Bernabé, Confiant, and Chamoiseau, Martinique's post-Negritude authors of Créolité, this partly because of the lack of public awareness caused by the problematic handling of Damas' manuscripts. The fact that Damas' own title, Mine de riens, was replaced by Dernière escale is a prime example of the lamentable state of affairs in Damasian studies today. 

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