Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society


Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society: Repossession is the driving force of Brathwaite's poetry. It is part and parcel of the West Indian response to the idea that "Africans in the New World are doomed to conspire in their own futility and despair, unless they repossess themselves by repossessing their hidden past" (Ramazani et al. 542). Brathwaite's poetic figures attempt to repossess a culturally sound identity in the Caribbean. It is of necessity that this identity subsumes the "African" side of West Indian existence. He presents images of Africa that suggest necessity "is even better understood with some grasp of West African history, language, and culture upon which he situates much of his imagery, allusions, and themes" (Dawes 202). Observe the mythic references in "Veve" from The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy: those which challenge cultural despair and whose intent exists for all West Indian culture to embrace their African heritage: "And so the black eye travels to the brink of vision / but not yet; / hold back the fishnet's fling of morn- /ing; unloose the sugarcane;" (20-3). This seemingly ambiguous example of repossession portrays the native's indigenous search for cultural wholeness.

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society: Perhaps a compelling question is what shape Brathwaite's repossession takes. Just how do we understand, how do we even comprehend these lines in "Veve": "possession of the fire / possession of the dust / sundered from your bone / plundered from my breast" (3.69-72)? At first our persona has the "fire" and "dust" of his African heritage, and then it is stripped away. Forcefully, the speaker recovers the repressed heritage from the oppressor who seeks to obscure it. There is an element of necessity here. In his essay "E. K. Brathwaite and the Poetics of the Voice," Simon Gikandi suggests the "meaning of [repossession] in Brathwaite's poetry hence lies in the reader's ability to [interpret] common structures of address and images which have become reified [as African]" (730) in West Indian literature. Brathwaite's necessity corresponds with the need to repossess cultural wholeness in the West Indies.

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society: As it concerns Brathwaite's use of Africa, repossession cuts to the heart of most intriguing issues in postcolonial studies. In particular, critics often debate whether poets should incorporate images of African heritage into West Indian poetry. Brathwaite engages this debate in his essay "The African Presence in Caribbean Literature," in which he denigrates the romantic writing of Africa in literature, when writers use Africa as a "mask," expressing their desire to make an African connection but failing.

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society: This essay investigates the question of how Brathwaite's repossession intervenes in the debate concerning the use of Africa. Particularly, theorists Edouard Glissant and Gikandi help begin an answer by drawing attention to a conscious effort on the part of West Indians, namely Brathwaite, to insert afrocentricity into their literature. Glissant claimed in Caribbean Discourse that West Indian blacks are at odds with past oppression: "No community would tolerate the notion of 'dispossession,' and that is a discouraging point with which to begin a scrutiny of the real. But not to do so is becoming dangerous, when dispossession is camouflaged" (37-8). In other words, representing Caribbean consciousness marks an attempt by any writer to raise a cultural dialectic. Glissant's consciousness is associated with what Derek Walcott, in his epic poem Omeros, refers to as the "prophetic song," which signifies how all indigenes must restore the Caribbean nation within themselves. Walcott's poem makes a connection between representations of transcendental ancestry and its redemptive nature. For Walcott, the notion of a redeemed culture is satisfactory because the historical and the contemporary are interweaved in a colonial and postcolonial journey. Where Omeros focuses on the cyclical realm (Western imperialism/West Indian culture) of repossession, Brathwaite's poetry more extensively targets the achievement of a repossessive culture in and of the Caribbean itself. Cultural despair makes African heritage a necessity for his personae. Focusing on cultural affliction, Brathwaite conflates literature and culture as spaces in which West Indians can embrace their African inheritance.

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society:His repossession becomes a manner in which an "African connection" is drawn upon and engineered by the West Indian. Brathwaite has spent his poetic career attempting to understand the complexities of an African heritage that "rise[s] and walk[s] through the now silent / streets of affliction, [within] hawk's eyes / hard with fear, with / affection" (The Arrivants 1.35-8). Following Louise Bennett as his precursor, he determined that all aspects of African culture were salubrious to gaining an authentic Afro-Caribbean experience. Jan Carew asserts in "British West Indian Poets and Their Culture" that this experience is "not an isolated phenomenon but part of a collective movement with deep roots in the West Indies" (72).

The first poem in my critique is "Wings of a Dove," where Brathwaite traced with notable precision an Afro-Caribbean inheritance of social, customary, and cultural awareness. The poem's imperative is to exonerate the ignorance of the masses: "learn / dem that dem / got dem nothin'" (The Arrivants 3.114-6). This idea is essential to the allusion: "in Babylon's boom / town, crazed by the moon / and the peace of this chalice, I / prophet and singer / [...] [am] guardian" (1.29-33). Such a necessity of cultural awareness is natural to the diasporic individual: lineage with its shared bloodline properties, heredity with its genetic transmission to offspring, communitas with its collective ownership of "the black / man lan' / back back / to Af- / rica" (1.67-70). Brathwaite's "Wings of a Dove" delineates some of the complexities of repossession. Without this comprehensive foundation, there can be no hope of explicating the nuances of his poetry.

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society: This same issue prompted Brathwaite to classify African representation in the West Indies in later years. With his description of the romantic rhetoric utilized in Caribbean literature, Brathwaite seems to have affirmed that a specific theme (if inserted within a romanticized Caribbean literature) might provide the edifice upon which to establish a West Indian mode of repossession. "Wings of a Dove" relies on the romantic trope of the imagination as an indigenous trait--a means to repossess in and of itself. In addition, the workings of imagination might act as a position from which to critique Brathwaite's exploration of African culture in the West Indies.

Similarly, Louise Bennett utilized her poetic voice to compose a poetry that displays a linguistic basis in the West Indies. Brathwaite, searching for a concrete means of repossession, reveals the complexities of the lives of his personae through imagination and highlights their duality as Afro-Caribbean people. This imagination, in most cases, takes shape as a recollection of African history prior to West Indian colonization. I view imagination in terms of Brathwaite's portrayal of the overwrought flow of his speakers' thoughts. Imagination becomes a poetic catalyst that helps to clarify goals of repossession. In other words, Brathwaite's imagination gives the mind a way of coping with life's occurrences whether positive or negative, past or future. Therefore, his characters' long to repossess what their imaginations uncover as emotional attachments to Africa.

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society: Intentionally infusing his works with a creolization that specifically targets the West Indian paradigm (imported experience through British history), Brathwaite re-appropriates ideas of African experience. Gikandi states, "Creol[ization] appears as if organically linked to the world-wide experiences of cultural relationship. It is literally a consequence of cultural interface, and did not exist prior to this interface" (qtd. in Gikandi 728). What furthers these interfaces for the West Indian is a consciousness about his or her own community. Faced with social oppression in "Calypso," the speaker imagines the "skidded arc'd" creation myth of the "skipping" Caribbean islands: Cuba, San Domingo, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Grenada, Guadeloupe, and Bonaire. The islands themselves proclaim an afrocentric heritage as they tunefully "roar [...] into green plantations / ruled by silver sugar cane / sweat and profit" (2.10-2). For Belinda Edmondson, this instance of creolization "is almost by definition oppositional, since it seeks to establish a regional/cultural identity against what is perceived as an imposed European culture" (112). Because his reference to the islands gives way to musical expression, the drummer is able to exhibit his cultural proclivities in the midst of European hierarchy.

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society: Brathwaite highlights the African elements retained via creolization through the rhythm of his persona. While insulted by his boss, John declares, "who goin' stop this bacchanalling? / For we glance the banjo / dance the limbo / grow our crops by maljo" (4.37-41). Here the boss has been, in essence, creolized--having his authoritative role inverted. So John resumes an authoritative role in his native land. The speaker snidely refers to the white beaches where, if blacks do not wear trousers, the whites will go into a frenzy as lively as an island dance. The speaker's sarcastic melody: "Somepeople doin'well/while others are catchin'hell" (4.51-2) suggests what cannot be taken from the West Indian is what he or she possessed prior to the postcolonial era--that is, the rythmic nature of their culture. John's "nigratin' overseas" (56) suggests he is seeking out the old culture his ancestors once enjoyed. What motivates John is not a sense of prideful repossession, but the powerful effects of a revived African heritage. Moreover, Brathwaite's creolization longs to connect the West Indian to the historical roles of an African past.

Brathwaite’s analysis of Jamaican society: The poem "South" repossesses ideas of African heritage through the hybridity that "occur[s] in post-colonial societies both as a result of conscious moments of cultural suppression, as when the colonial power[s] dispossess indigenous peoples and force them to assimilate to new social patterns" (Ashcroft, et al. 183). Hybridity is the force behind repossession in "South," and Brathwaite plays up what must remain from a hybrid (or colonized) identity. The poem reads, "But today I recapture the islands' / bright beaches: blue mist from the ocean / rolling into the fishermen's houses. / By these shores I was born" (1-4). The "I" in the poem, read as perhaps Brathwaite himself, has traveled from the beaches of his primitive home and has resided temporarily in cities with stone foundations. The "fishermen" have made paths to their houses offshore while the "We" resents the wisdom of the colonizer. Each has a hybrid investment in the landscape; thus, it is repossession that brings into question the land of "South," as it is repossession that brings the three figures (I, fishermen, We) to terms with their existential conditions.


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