Edward Brathwaite, also known as Kamau Brathwaite, who has died aged 89, was a Caribbean poet and historian, praised by the American poet Adrienne Rich for his “dazzling inventive language, his tragic yet unquenchable vision, [which] made him one of the most compelling of late twentieth century poets”.
Brathwaite began composing and performing The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (1973), while teaching and studying history in Jamaica and Britain in the 1960s. This epic trilogy interweaves the state of the Caribbean homeland, its natural beauty, its violent history, the values that sustain its people, into a poetic statement through the tension of jazz/folk rhythm and historical flashbacks.
His use of reggae rhythm and Rastafarian voice and idiom can be heard in Rights of Passage (originally published in 1967), the first book in The Arrivants trilogy:
dem, an go’
to the black
For Brathwaite, oral performance and a listening community were vital. He insisted the language spoken by Caribbean peoples should be regarded not as a dialect, but as a “nation language”, capable of expressing the complexities of Caribbean culture and history.
Edward Brathwaite was a Caribbean poet and historian.