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San Andres Islands identity in novels

The Colombian islands of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina are overseas territories whose literary production is limited but significant. Some of its authors are:

  • Lenito Doblado Robinson and Jimmy Gordon “Bull”, in stories
  • María Matilde Rodríguez Jaime and Juan Ramírez Dawkins, in poetry
  • Lola Pomare Myles, in autobiography &
  • Hazel Marie Robinson, in novels.

From this list, Robinson has been the most prolific and the most recognized. She has penned three novels: No Give Up, Maan! (2002), Sail Ahoy!!! ¡Vela a la vista! (2004) and El Príncipe de St. Katherine (2009), published by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Caribbean campus in an effort to spread the culture of San Andrés.

These books are a historical image of the island, outlining its political and social building in the shadow of different empires and rulers, but are especially a window to the manner which gave birth to the cultural identity of the islanders.

Robinson’s novels are a direct and simple narrative, with a clear and precise language, without excessive rhetorical resources or elaborate stylistic use. Every story occurs in a time different from the present with characters born and raised on the islands, most of foreign origin.

In her books, the historic topic prevails and it is finely threaded with fictional tales making reading her stories a pleasant activity and even educational.

The writer takes the reader through a journey across a new archipelago, every islander and proper to their people, as nobody else but Colombians know the reality of being descendants of English speakers in a Hispanic country.

Robinson’s stories creep the identity of San Andres as a product of many nationalities which have contributed to form what they are today. Definitely, their primary roots are African, although their roots are broad and because the cultural, linguistic and racial wealth is so rich, they are placed in a special category of the ethnographic Colombian map. In her tales, one can perceive how these cultures formed the current inhabitants of these islands and distinguish them with special characteristics within the Colombian population.

Between the historical novel and the San Andres identity 

In her book “No Give Up, Maan!” Robinson tells the love story between George, a 30-year old mulatto who speaks English and Creole, raised by an American pastor and Elizabeth Mayson, an English woman and sole survivor of a shipwreck near the islands. They have a relationship which is not well perceived by the Anglo-Saxon colonists and the slaves.

The story ends at the end of the slavery, the protagonists marry and the Spanish empire makes its presence with three new officials from the Reino de Nueva Granada.

In her second novel, Sail Ahoy!!!, set in the early twentieth century, Robinson reveals a more established social identity. Although the Colombian government has made a minimal presence on the island, the Colombian flag waves on top of the municipal building. This is a story between a nun, María José and a sailor, Henley. Each one represents a different Colombian, she is from the continent and he is an islander of Irish descent; two different ethnical groups in the same country.

El Príncipe de St. Katherine is a story of a midwife named Miss Mary and her romantic relationship with the German doctor of the island, Dr. Timgen. In this novel, she shows that the Puritans and the slaves are characters in the shadow of a forgotten history of the island, the spinal cord of a society coming from different cultures and which time has forged into its own identity.

This narrative best speaks of the identity topic from different perspectives, the most interesting of all is the religious matter, which is the Baptist Church left by English colonists, but then came the Colombian government and imposed the Catholic church.

Religion marks the individual and collective identity of the island. Although the “Colombianization” tried to change many aspects of their lives, religious beliefs continue to be a point of discord between the inhabitants of the island and the mainland which live in San Andres.

The work of Robinson helps establish how from the mid-twentieth century, in an intent to preserve, rescue and promote their ancestral values they adopt a term known as “Raizals” to distinguish themselves from Afro-descendants and be true natives of a unique place.

Currently, the inhabitants of San Andrés battle to maintain their culture as intact as possible, for speaking creole, practicing their religion, listening and dancing to their music and their authenticity as islanders. The people of San Andres are hybrids from various nationalities which inhabited the islands at several moments in time and as so, the stories that Robinson has created in her novels help to better understand who these Colombian islanders are, with their own language and English surnames.




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