Indigenous Innocence

Indigenous Innocence

Acrylic on canvas

By Rohini James
Copyright June 2015
All Rights Reserved


By Rohini James
Copyright April 2015
All Rights Reserved

My Shadow Aspires to Your Silhouette

You kept my hands gentle to one day love a man.
You disciplined them with dish grease, books, and bleach
Because docile, pretty, unskilled hands attract the wrong man.
More so, you taught my hands to build solace,
And lectures came with the consistency of stiff honey
Until my words and spirit were as sweet;
Until its resilience and longevity were parts of me.
Mommy has daughters that make daddy swell with pride.
I will be broken in your likeness to resemble your vision,
To be modeled against your form, only if life is kind.

By Rohini James
Copyright February 2015
All Rights Reserved

Master is Coming

Did you cry upon thine cobbled path
And your brethren bleed upon cast iron cannons?
The treachery of the pale will never leave your skin
As the branding of your kind
With the searing wrath of the sugar greed is indelible.

So is your history that grows old and compact
Like a tomb for your lost indigenous names.
Never Akachi and Imamu but William, Mary and James.
Washing Wai’tukubuli white with whips of the eastern wicked.

But the fields leave no time for the spirit to be bitter…only to break as Master approaches.

By Rohini James
Copyright January 2015
All Rights Reserved

This poem was inspired by a lecture given by local historian, Lennox Honychurch, in which a timeline of Caribbean history was elaborated upon on the grounds of Fort Shirley in Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica. While listening it was difficult not to imagine life as an enslaved indigenous person or an imported African. Perhaps even more difficult was not being affected by the very real traumas faced by these people who endured wars, crippling poverty and maltreatment  as pawns in the grand scheme of profiting from the thriving sugar industry of the 17th century.

The African names chosen are relevant to the nuances of the poem. As a means of gaining psychological control over the enslaved populations (in addition to the manipulation of religion to denounce the humanity of the slaves) the European colonists would sever them from their cultural identities. It was common for African traditions to be banned on plantations inclusive of native religions, art forms and even the cultural significance of their names which were often changed to European ones. ‘Akachi’ means “God’s hand” and ‘Imamu’ means “spiritual leader.” The changing of these names to European ones is symbolic of the stripping of their identities and the loss of their lofty titles and freedoms as a result.

Additionally, ‘Wai’tukubuli’ is the indigenous name given to Dominica by the Kalinago people, the original inhabitants of the island at the time of Columbus’ arrival. Christopher Columbus neither knew or cared that the island was already named. Like future colonists would come to do to their slaves, Columbus renamed Wai’tukubuli, stripping it of its name and a large percentage of its population.

I find it very difficult to accept mediocrity when all of our lives are the result of such profound events and collisions of chance and even misfortune. History, after being a comfortable hum to fall asleep to in class, is proving itself to be as riveting as the present, having stood in a place so full of it all my life, yet only realizing its gravity now. I have discovered that it is wonderful to look back as often as you look forward. It is certainly cheaper than buying novels.


I had hoped that the bass would be heavy enough to anchor me
And my headphones sturdy enough to cradle my mind
That threatened oozing from my ears.
I wanted crooning violins that sang condolences.
The world paraded past hurriedly,
Barely sparing time to judge me.

I did not mind.

This must be what feeling alive is.
Full and overflowing, I spill terribly into every space
And I am thinly spread, and feeble.
I do not flow with the grace of the songs that set me in motion.

Even whispers of the faintest hymns find me easy to tease,
Titillated to tumult that falls like chains
And surround me like carnage

I do not mind

Silence gathers me up once the serenade ends
And time forgives me
For my half-scream-half-sung songs
So too does it turn a blind eye
To the lashings of my halved soul.

*The title of this poem, “Consōlārī” is a Latin word meaning ‘to console’*

By Rohini D. James
Copyright November 2014
All Rights Reserved

A Warning

How time has made me bitter
Or am i wrong to blame time for your crimes? Still I am,
A once decadent wine that has turned to a vinegar poison.
I am trying so desperately to heal
And your toxic love is something of a virus.
You snare as you are excised, yet
My recovery, the sweetness of being well
Frees me from the sympathy that once bound me to you.

You refused to share my sorrows.
Why must I undertake your crosses,
Your burdens of madening weight
Adorned prettily in lies and hues of vanity?

All that settles is dust.
Even after I am long gone
I know you will come
Waging some hellspawned war.
I am the holder of your prison’s key
And by the possession of bravery,
Or stubborness or conceit of battles won
I am a cruel and underhanded fighter,
One who has forgotten how to run.

By Rohini D. James
Copyright March 2014
All Rights Reserved