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Edward Kamau Brathwaite

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Edward Kamau Brathwaite

When you think of the Caribbean, you might think of pirates, beaches, or the turquoise blue sea. However, the Caribbean is filled with a rich history that the academic and poet, Edward Kamau Brathwaite (1930‐2020), brings to life in his uniquely rhythmic poetry. Brathwaite's poetry explores the themes of Caribbean identity and the alienating effects of colonization and slavery.

Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Caribbean Island, StudySmarter

Brathwaite's poetry evokes the beauty of the Caribbean and the character and struggles of its people.

Pixabay

Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Biography

Lawson Edward Brathwaite (later Edward Kamau Brathwaite) was born on May 11, 1930, in Bridgetown, Barbados. His father was a warehouse clerk, and his mother was a pianist. Brathwaite attended school at Harrison College in Bridgetown, where his exploration of writing began. As a teen, he wrote essays about jazz in the school newspaper and wrote for the Caribbean literary magazine, Bim.

After high school, Brathwaite won a scholarship to study English and History at the University of Cambridge. While attending Cambridge, Brathwaite started broadcasting his poems and stories on a BBC radio show called Caribbean Voices. He graduated with a Bachelor's in History from Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1953, and a Diploma of Education in 1954.

In 1955, after completing his degrees at Cambridge, Brathwaite worked for the Ministry of Education in the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast was a British colony from 1821 until it became the first African state to gain independence. The Gold Coast became the county of Ghana in 1957. Living in Ghana during this progression towards independence gave Brathwaite a deep interest and awareness of Caribbean identity and culture, which are central themes in his books and poetry.

While in Ghana in 1960, Brathwaite married his wife, Doris Monica Wellcome, and wrote a play called Odeale's Choice. The play premiered at a secondary school in Cape Coast, Ghana, in 1962.

Around 1963, Brathwaite returned to the Caribbean, where he was a tutor in St. Lucia, and then became a History teacher at the University of the West Indies Campus in Kingston, Jamaica.

In the mid-1960s, Brathwaite returned to England to do doctoral studies at the University of Sussex. In 1966, Brathwaite became a co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement. In 1968, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Sussex. 1971, Oxford University Press published his doctoral thesis, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica.

The Caribbean Artists Movement, also known by the acronym CAM, was a Caribbean cultural initiative that was prevalent from 1966 to 1972. The movement started in London, England, and focused on the work of Caribbean writers, artists, actors, filmmakers, and musicians. The writers Edward Brathwaite, John La Rose, and Andrew Salkey were vital in establishing the Caribbean Artists Movement.

Also in 1971, Brathwaite was on a fellowship at the University of Nairobi, where he received the name Kamau from the grandmother of the Kenyan writer and academic, Ngugi wa Thiong'o.

In 1973, Brathwaite published a poetry collection called The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy. This Trilogy is comprised of three earlier volumes of his most significant work: Rights of Passage (1967), Masks (1968), and Islands (1969).

In the 1980s, Edward Kamau Brathwaite experienced difficulties, including the death of his wife and the destruction of Hurricane Gilbert in Irish Town, Jamaica.

From 1990 to 2004, Brathwaite was a Professor of Comparative Literature at New York University (NYU) and lived between New York and Barbados. After retiring from New York University, Brathwaite stayed in Cow Pasture, Barbados. He died on February 4, 2020, in Barbados.

Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Books

Edward Kamau Brathwaite is best known for his 1973 trilogy of poetry books calledThe Arrivants: A New World Trilogy. The Trilogy is made up of three poetry collections: Rights of Passage (1967), Masks (1968), and Islands (1969). The poems follow the movement of African people through the atrocities of the Middle Passage, the endurance of slavery, and displacing journeys to the UK, France, and America. The stories of these books span centuries but are tied together through the use of African and Caribbean jazz and folk rhythms.

Brathwaite published another trilogy of poetry books made up of the books Mother Poem (1977), Sun Poem (1982), and X/Self (1987), which continue the exploration of African and Caribbean identity.

Edward Kamau Brathwaite is well known for his 1994 collection of poetry, Barabajan Poems, 1492‐1992. The poet also published numerous cultural and historical research studies, including Folk Culture of the Slaves in Jamaica (1970), The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770‐1820 (1971), History of the Voice: The Development of Nation Language in Anglophone and Caribbean Poetry (1984), and Roots (1986).

While Brathwaite's poetry and cultural writings were primarily based on history and collective cultural identity, his later writing became more autobiographical. In 1993, he published The Zea Mexican Diary: 7 September 1926 – 7 September, an account of the poet's experience of his wife's death.

Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Poems

Two well-known poems by Edward Kamau Brathwaite are "Ogun" (1986) and "Bread" (2005).

Edward Kamau Brathwaite, African Drums, StudySmarter

Brathwaite's poems are known for their reflection of Caribbean language, voices, and African and Caribbean rhythms that evoke the sounds of drums, calypso, reggae, jazz, and blues music. Pixabay.

"Ogun" by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

"Ogun" (1986) is a poem about Brathwaite's great uncle, an extremely talented, hardworking carpenter. The poem expresses the poet's view that recognizing of the past must be built into the present. The poem expresses frustrations that modernity has trampled over appreciation of past culture, art, and skill.

Notice how the poet builds intensity and develops a drum-like rhythm through the use of alliteration (repetition of the initial letter sounds of nearby words) in the opening lines of the poem:

My uncle made chairs, tables, balanced doors on, dug out

coffins, smoothing the white wood out

with plane and quick sandpaper

until it shone like his short-sighted glasses." (1-4)

"Bread" by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

"Bread" (2005) is a poem from Brathewate's collection of poems, Born to Slow Horses (2005). The poem explores the idea of black people's broken dreams and hopelessness. The poem uses fragmented lines and phrases to emphasize the fragmented and lost experiences of displaced Black people.

Slowly the white dream wrestle(s) to life

hands shaping the salt and the foreign cornfields

the cold flesh kneaded by fingers

is ready for the charcoal for the black wife" (1-4)

Edward Kamau Brathwaite, Baker and Bread, StudySmarter

In the poem, bread is a symbol of the hopes and dreams of black people.

Pixabay

Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Quotes

Edward Kamau Brathwaite's poetry draws heavily upon African and Caribbean music and culture. The poet infuses Caribbean identity into his poems' meter, rhythms, and expressions.

My poetry has been concerned, for a long time now, with the attempt to reconstruct, in verse, in metric and in rhythms, the nature of the culture of the people of the Caribbean. This involves not only discovering what I would call “new poetic forms” — a breakaway from the English pentameter — but also, and more importantly, discovering the nature of our folk culture, the myths, the legends, the speech rhythms, the way we express ourselves in words, the way we express ourselves in song." 1

Although Brathwaite's poetry was heavily influenced by Caribbean poetry, the poet noted that T.S. Eliot had an effect on conversational tones and different voices used within Caribbean poetry. Brathwaite's famous poetry book, The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (1973), uses Eliot's technique, as the voices of numerous people throughout African and Caribbean history weave in and out of the narratives.

What T.S. Eliot did for Caribbean poetry and Caribbean literature was to introduce the notion of the speaking voice, the conversational tone" 2

Interesting Facts About Edward Kamau Brathwaite

  • While living in Ghana, Edward Kamau Brathwaite studied with one of Africa's most famous musicologists, J.H. Kwabena Nketia.
  • Edward Kamau Brathwaite started a literary journal called Savacou: A Journal of the Caribbean Artists Movement.
  • Brathwaite used unique computer fonts and spacings in his poetry books to create striking visual effects he called Sycorax video style.
  • Brathwaite won the 1994 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. The other candidates for the prize included Toni Morrison, Norman Mailer, and Chinua Achebe.
  • Edward Kamau Brathwaite received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sussex in 2002.

Edward Kamau Brathwaite - Key takeaways

  • Edward Kamau Brathwaite was a Caribbean poet and academic who lived from 1930 to 2020.

  • Brathwaite's poetry explores the themes of Caribbean identity and the alienating effects of colonization and slavery.

  • Edward Kamau Brathwaite is best known for his 1973 trilogy of poetry books calledThe Arrivants: A New World Trilogy.

  • Two well-known poems by Edward Kamau Brathwaite are "Ogun" (1986) and "Bread" (2005).

  • Many of Brathwaite's poems are modeled on African and Caribbean drum rhythms.

1 Kalamu Ya Salaam, "Interview: Edward Kamau Brathwaite," Neo-Groit, 2014.

2 Edward Kamau Brathwaite, "History of the Voice: The Development of Nation Language in Anglophone Caribbean Poetry," New Beacon Books, 1984.

Frequently Asked Questions about Edward Kamau Brathwaite

Edward Kamau Brathwaite coined the term creolization to examine intercultural changes in Jamaica. 

Edward Kamau Brathwaite is famous for his poetry collection called The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (1973).

This Trilogy is comprised of three earlier volumes of his most significant work: Rights of Passage (1967), Masks (1968), and Islands (1969). Two well-known poems by Edward Kamau Brathwaite are "Ogun" (1986) and "Bread" (2005). 

Edward Kamau Brathwaite died on February 4, 2020.

Edward Kamau Brathwaite wrote about Caribbean identity and the alienating effects of colonization and slavery. 

The poem "South" by Edward Kamau Brathwaite is about the poet reflecting on his childhood and his home in the Caribbean. 

Final Edward Kamau Brathwaite Quiz

Question

Where is Edward Kamau Brathwaite from? 

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The Caribbean/ Barbados

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True of False: Brathwaite's poetry explores the themes of Caribbean identity and the alienating effects of colonization and slavery. 

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True

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Which University did the poet attend?

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Cambridge University

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True or False: Brathwaite lived in Ghana when it become the first African state to gain independence from the British. 

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True

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What was the name of the artistic movement Brathwaite cofounded?

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Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM)

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What is the title of Brathwaite's most famous trilogy of poetry? 

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The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy

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Name at least one Brathwaite poem.

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"Ogun" / "Bread"

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Which of the following types of music did not influence the rhythm of Brathwaite's poetry?

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Classic rock

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At what University was Brathwaite a Professor of Comparative Literarure? 

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New York Univeristy (NYU)

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Which subject did Brathwaite initially study in school?

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History 

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Who is "Ogun" in the poem?

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"Ogun" is a talented carpenter. 

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Who is the author of "Ogun"?

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Edward Kamau Braithwaite

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What are the two themes in the poem?

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Work and craftsmanship

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What is the meaning of the poem?

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As society progresses forward, the value of art and craftsmanship should not fall behind. 

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What genre is the poem "Ogun"?

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A narrative poem

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Where is the poem set?

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Barbados/Caribbean 

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True or False: Plants and animals watch Ogun as he is at work.

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True

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What does the “image. Of his anger” that Ogun carves reflect? 

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the frustration of craftmanship being unappreciated

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white wood” is an example of what literary device?


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Alliteration

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"green lizard faces gulped" is an example of which literary device?


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Personification

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True of False: Ogun is depicted not just as the man and carpenter, but as a god of creation whose hammer is more powerful than the sound of thunder. 

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True

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Question

What is the main idea of "Roots"?



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The main idea of "Roots" is that an artist cannot meaningfully contribute to a cultural tradition without being integrated into a society.


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Who published "Roots"?

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"Roots" is an essay written by Kamau Brathwaite that was originally published in BIM magazine.

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What is "Roots" about?


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"Roots" is an essay that explores the cultural identity of West Indians.




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When was "Roots" published?

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"Roots", an essay by Kamau Brathwaite, was published in BIM magazine in 1963, then later in a collection titled Roots in 1986.

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How did Brathwaite receive his name Kamau?

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Brathwaite received the name “Kamau” from the grandmother of Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o after being awarded a fellowship from the University of Nairobi.

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West Indian refers to the

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majority Black population of the West Indies.

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East Indian refers to the

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minority Indian population of the West Indies.

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West Indians feel robbed of their past because

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they are descendants of enslaved African people.

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Writers of the West Indian literary renaissance show a pattern of

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emigration

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What is the dichotomy that Brathwaite considers a permanent part of West Indian heritage?

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A tension from the desire for a deeper cultural tradition, and the need to move, like emigration, to relieve the tension.

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Nearly all West Indian novelists refer to themselves as 

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poets

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East Indian novelist Vidia Naipaul's novels have a strong sense of 

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narrative and characterization.

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In Naipaul's novels, we understand individuals from their respective 

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societies.

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Brathwaite concludes that stylistic choices by many West Indian authors, show their 

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middle-class background and distance them from representing “the people

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The three main ideas of "Roots" are

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Rootlessness

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What is the occupation of "Ogun" in the poem?

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A carpenter

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Who is the author of the poem, "Ogun"?

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Edward Kamau Brathwaite

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What type of poem is "Ogun"?

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A narrative poem

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What are the main themes of the poem?

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Work and craftsmanship

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The meaning of the poem is that as society progresses forward, the value of art and craftsmanship should not fall behind. 

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True

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What is the poet's relationship to Ogun?

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Ogun is his great uncle

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What is the setting of the poem?

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Barbados/Caribbean

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True or False: Ogun is a famous and affluent carpenter.

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False

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True or False: The entire poem is written in couplets.

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True

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The words  white wood” and “heavy hammer” exemplify what literary device?

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Alliteration

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