Of Cane, the Caribbean and João Cabral de Melo Neto

Paul B. Dixon


In his book La isla que se repite, Antonio Benítez Rojo provides an inclusive view of the Caribbean, which extends to Brazil. The centrality of the sugar cane plantation is what permits this extended view, revealing aspects shared by all the latifundio economies. Four poems by the Brazilian João Cabral de Melo Neto, focusing on sugar cane, may be seen as literary corroborations (avant la lettre) of this vision of Benítez Rojo. In each poem, the person working in the field of cane becomes conflated with the cane produced, which gives emphasis to the question of masses (human or productive). The texts suggest that each individual is merely a repetition of the others, and that people may be used up, discarded and replaced. The Capibaribe River of northeastern Brazil sustains a chain of plantations, just as the Caribbean Sea holds a chain of islands, each with a similar economy. Both in Benítez Rojo’s Caribbean and in João Cabral de Melo Neto’s Pernambuco, the sugar plantation is a repeating island.


sugar; plantation; Caribbean; Brazilian Northeast; poetry.

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