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Don't Stop the Carnival
By Herman Wouk
Back Bay BooksCopyright © 1999 Herman Wouk
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKinja was the name of the island when it was British. Now the name on the maps and in the Caribbean guidebooks is Amerigo, but everybody who lives there still calls it Kinja.
The Union Jack flew over this enchanting green hump in the blue ocean for almost two hundred years. Before that the island was Danish; before that, French; before that, cannibal. Smoky gun battles between sailing ships and the old stone fort went with these flag changes; whizzing cannon balls, raiding parties, skirmishes, and an occasional death. But the fort guns have been silent for more than a century. The United States acquired the island peaceably in 1940, as part of the shuffling of old destroyers and Caribbean real estate that went on between Mr Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill. The Americans ended up in this instance not only with the submarine base in Shark Bay-now gone back to tall guinea grass and catch-and-keep, the piers sagging and rotting, the rusty Quonset huts all askew-but with the whole island. The details of the transaction were and are vague to the inhabitants. They were not much interested.
Keenja was the short, musical native version of the actual British name, King George the Third Island. Obviously this was a bit awkward for an American possession, so somebody in the Department of the Interior thought of Amerigo. The new name is used mainly on official stationery and in the school classrooms. There the pupils docilely scrawl themes and recite facts about Amerigo, but in the streets and playgrounds they call the place Kinja, and themselves Kinjans. All through the Caribbean they still say of a native of this island, "He fum Kinja."
The West Indian is not exactly hostile to change, but he is not much inclined to believe in it. This comes from a piece of wisdom that his climate of eternal summer teaches him. It is that, under all the parade of human effort and noise, today is like yesterday, and tomorrow will be like today; that existence is a wheel of recurring patterns from which no one escapes; that all anybody does in this life is live for a while and then die for good, without finding out much; and that therefore the idea is to take things easy and enjoy the passing time under the sun. The white people charging hopefully around the islands them days in the noon glare, making deals, bulldozing airstrips, hammering up hotels, laying out marinas, opening new banks, night clubs, and gift shops, are to him merely a passing plague. They have come before and gone before.
Long ago they came in their white-winged ships, swarmed over the islands, slaughtered the innocent cannibals, chopped down magnificent groves of mahogany that had stood since the Flood, and planted sugar cane. Sugar was money then, and it grew only in warm places. They used the felled mahogany to boil molasses. Those were the days of the great stone plantation houses and sugar mills; of seasick slaves hauled in from Africa, the ancestors of the Kinjans; of wealthy landowners with pink cool wives back in England, and warm black concubines on the premises. Then the sugar beet, which can grow in the north, came in, and black slavery went out. Bankruptcy and insurrection exploded along the island chain. The boom collapsed. The planters left. The plantation hours fell in. Today the natives put tin roofs over one nook or another in the massive broken walls and live there.
The West Indians do not know what will caug the frantic whites to leave next time. Perhaps a bad earthquake: the entire chain of drowned mountains rests on a shaky spot in the earth's crust. Or a tidal wave; or a very bad hurricane; or an outbreak of some dormant tropical disease; or the final accidental blow-up of the white man's grumbling cauldron in the north, which will End the Caribbean white remnant scurrying to-where next? Tasmania? Tierra del Fuego? Unlike the natives they cannot subsist, if the ships and planes stop coming, on crayfish, mangoes, coconuts, and iguanas.
Meantime, in a fashion, Amerigo is getting Americanized. The natives like the new holidays-Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Presidents' birthdays, and the rest-added to the old British holidays and the numerous religious days, none of which they have abandoned. The work calendar has become a very light and unburdensome thing. The inflow of cash is making everyone more prosperous. Most Kinjans go along cheerily with this explosion of American energy in the Caribbean. To them it seems a new, harmless, and apparently endless carnival.
Excerpted from Don't Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk Copyright © 1999 by Herman Wouk. Excerpted by permission.
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