Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book 46, Barbados: "The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy" by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

Rather amazing that Brathwaite and Derek Walcott are of the same generation (seriously, they're born four months apart in 1930), yet they have such radically different strategies for excavating and mythologising their cultural heritage in their most famous books.

In Omeros, Walcott's all lofty and epic with his terza rima and bombast, yet specifically ties everything back to the island of Saint Lucia; but here Brathwaite uses the language of the common man, bordering on slam lyrics, but dwells far longer on the pre-modern African settlements of Axum and Timbuktu and Volta and the emigrant communities in Brixton and Chicago and Paris than on Barbados itself.

It's a great book, though: in fact, I really dig the first two sections of the trilogy, Rights of Passage and Masks, surveying the grand scope of black heritage from drum-making to sweating in sugar and cotton plantations to standing in the shipyards and airports waiting to migrate. Less wild about the third section, Islands, which deals a little more specifically with Caribbean problems of robber politicians who sell their homelands to casino landlords and hotel magnates and cruise companies. But perhaps it was just my poetry fatigue?

Couple more notes. It's cute that all the poet's Afrocentrism only pushed him to change his name from Edward to Kamau after his trilogy's ultimate compilation in 1973 (and possibly after my edition was printed in 1981). And it's intriguing how the recurrent motif in the volume is Uncle Tom, of all figures.

Also, the Yoruba glossary at the back is woefully inadequate. What the hell's a poe? Who's Asase Yaa? What's bambalula bambalulai?

View Around the World in 80 Books in a larger map

Representative quote:

Drown the screams, shore
cool the lashed sore,
keep the dream pure

for we who have achieved nothing
who have not built
who have forgotten all
and dare to remember

the paths we shall never remember
agan: Atumpan talking and the harvest branch-
es, all the tribes of Ashanti dreaming the dream
of Tutu, Anokye and the Golden Stool, built
in Heaven for our nation by the work
of lightning and the brilliant adze: and now


Next book: Jacob Ross's Pynter Bender, from Grenada.

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