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Kamau Brathwaite and the Voice of the Caribbean

In 1974, in a remarkable essay titled “The African Presence in Caribbean Literature,” the great Bajan poet Kamau Brathwaite reflected on the sometimes striking ways in which Caribbean cultures contained traditions and rhythmic patterns resembling those in West Africa. 

For Brathwaite, it was impossible to understand contemporary Caribbean—and, for that matter, African-American—culture without examining these African traditions, which had been transmitted across the Atlantic and transformed during the bloody centuries of the European slave trade. The Caribbean’s cultures were not entirely the same as their origins an ocean away, of course, but inextricably interwoven into their fabrics were the African religious images, cadences, and terpsichorean rhythms that had traveled from the shores of West Africa to the West Indies.

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