The ninth edition of the Babel festival, dedicated to the Antilles, has been extraordinary for the number of guest cultures – Haiti and Cuba, Trinidad and Martinique and Jamaica – as well as the variety of languages. Yet quality has been even more astonishing than quantity: in this archipelago, so central and so remote, writers have a unique relationship with language: there seem to be no division between oral and written language, or between the standard language – French, English or Spanish – and the multiplicity of patois, creole and nation languages. Such a relationship to language has been very uplifting for anyone who deals with writing, or happens to live between different languages. Therefore, the Babel days have been a true Babel of linguistic inventions, that made Bellinzona resound with the true, human voice of the Caribbean Isles.
Yet, true hospitality works both ways. If such an relationship with language may depend on the many cultural layers that make the Antilles a global village ante litteram, and therefore a place to look back to recognize our own future, the connections between islands are weak, and especially so between those of different languages. After having given many a writer the chance to meet and discuss for the first time, Babel prepared a three-lingual Manifesto addressing the lack of translations and book distribution in the archipelago. Signed by all the invited writers, the Manifesto is now being promoted by cultural institutions in the Caribbean. This project, along with the books and magazines we publish, the prizes we receive and award, the tools offered to young translators as well as the joy and focus of our public, is a confirmation of the relevance of Babel’s contribution to linguistic hospitalities.
In 2014 Babel pushed further the research started in 2013 with French-speaking African literatures. After a continent, an archipelago, and after one language a variety of languages: the festival invited writers from the Antilles, the Caribbean islands inhabited by indigenous tribes, occupied in turn by all the European colonial powers and populated with the African people transported en masse for the slave trade, ex-colonials, mixed-races and a multitude of ancient and recent migrations. A melting-pot of races and cultures whose roots dive deep into African and European soil, but whose branches reach towards the Americas and the whole world. Or rather, like mangroves, root and branch out into the water reacting to the relentless sea-change of currents and tides, with a unique capacity to adapt, aggregate, rebel and re-conquer.
Spanish from Cuba and the Dominican Republic, French from Haiti and Martinique, English from Trinidad&Tobago and Jamaica, Dutch from Curacao, as well as Portuguese, Hindi, Chinese, and the variety of Creoles and spoken dialects: the languages of the Antilles reflect this rich and dramatic tangle of different influences. The literatures of the Antilles are the fruits of this tangled mass of roots, blooms, breakers, sea creatures and boughs.