Kamau Brathwaite disturbed our complacency with African civilisation

Letters to the Editor

Kamau Brathwaite disturbed our complacency with African civilisation

Monday, February 10, 2020

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Dear Editor,
Barbados and the wider African Caribbean Diaspora lost one of its most outstanding and widely acclaimed literary giants, poets, and historians of the role of African civilisation in the shaping of the Caribbean's encounter with the New World upon the recent death of the late Kamau Brathwaite.

The passing of this Barbadian cultural philosopher at the respectable age of 89 has left us to ponder his rich legacy after a lifetime spent building bridges of the inner landscape of peoples of African descent from England, Africa, and the Caribbean. His work in Ghana, the mother country Britain, and on the campus of The University of the West Indies at Mona all pointed to the role of culture; in particular, African culture in the Caribbean's post-Independence experience.

Who that has read such works as Born to Slow Horses, Mother Poem, Odale's Choice, Arrivants - A New World Trilogy, and The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770-1820 has not admired Kamau's noble English, the burning love of truth towards our ancestors, the bravery of self-discovery, the indignation at historical wrong, and the passionate honour of African civilisation in the crafting of a genuine Caribbean identity and society, despite the burning contradictions?

One of his defining legacies, surely, in light of this, will no doubt be that his body of work functioned primarily to disturb our complacency with African civilisation.

The Kamau Brathwaite I had come to know at first in 1990, in my capacity as associate editor of the Caribbean's oldest academic journal, Caribbean Quarterly, published out of The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, was by nature a very private, yet dynamic person. But his literary and historical works exposed his customary reserve and gave us glimpses into the recesses of his mind and heart that under ordinary circumstances would be concealed.

While he may have been perceived by some as solitary, austere even, his appearance was never deceptive. From the crown of his head to the sole of his feet, he projected the spirit and inclination of his African ancestors. He retained a humane heart toward all people and devoted his talent and life to his family, work, and the vast expanse of the African Diaspora.

We live in a culture that assumes literary giants like Kamau Brathwaite must have a massive ego to maintain creative momentum. But this son of Barbados was genuinely unconcerned with posterity in the sense that he was more preoccupied with the quality and exactness of his work more than anything else. As such, he joins the pantheon of such other great Caribbean intellectual historians, literary giants, and cultural artistes, such as Rex Nettleford, Derek Walcott, George Lamming, C L R James, Lorna Goodison, and Una Marson, just to name a few.

Kamau will remain relevant and influential for generations to come because the body of work his destiny permitted him to fulfil will constantly direct us towards the emancipatory possibilities of African Caribbean civilisation, and his extraordinary facility with and love for words will remain a gift of attraction.

Soli Deo gloria — to God alone be the glory for the life of Kamau Brathwaite. May his soul now rest in peace.

Everton Pryce

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