Brathwaite lived and worked in Ghana, Africa, from 1955 to 1962. He became active in discovering his cultural roots.
Brathwaite’s ancestors were transported from Africa to the West Indies during the Slave Trade.
The conditions on board the transport ships were, most usually, appalling. This drawing was produced to support the campaign to end slavery but it still provides an insight into how much the slaves suffered.
It is believed that in order to have some form of exercise, slaves performed the Limbo: a dance whereby individuals moved under a stick that was originally the shackles slaves were tied to.
The dance became part of the West Indian culture. Today, it is a tourist event.
Going down and under the limbo stick is likened to the slaves going down into the hold of the ship, which carries them into slavery. In Roman Catholic tradition, limbo is a place to which the souls of people go, if they are not good enough for heaven or bad enough for hell, between which limbo lies; it has come to mean any unpleasant place, or a state (of mind or body) from which it is difficult to escape. The story of slavery told in the poem is very easy to follow, yet full of vivid detail and lively action.
Limbo • Two narratives are going on in the poem: • The actions of the dance • The history of the people re-enacted • History suggest the dance was created as exercise on the cramped slave ships
Various interpretations of the title Many words linked with violence and beating Likens the limbo stick to going in to the hold of the ship which takes them to slavery Limbo Edward Kamau Brathwaite And limbo stick is the silence in front of me limbo limbo limbo like me limbo limbo like me long dark night is the silence in front of me limbo limbo like me stick hit sound and the ship like it ready stick hit sound and the dark still ready limbo limbo like me Chorus provides shape and a refrain, looking like oars of a ship and the Limbo dance itself Articles(i.e. ‘a’ and ‘the’ ) are omitted to mimic the drummer’s beat Poems has strong beat which suggests the drum
Repetition of adjectives and feelings of imprisonment Limbo is a place which is neither heaven or hell, it is a place for people who have never been given the chance to find god, i.e the unbaptised long dark deck and the water surrounding me long dark deck and the silence is over me limbo limbo like me stick is the whip and the dark is slavery limbo limbo like me drum stick knock and the darkness is over me Assonance to draw attention, increase feeling of foreboding, echoing drum beat Many references to heat, dark, water and other ‘hellish’ features
First person Singular used to personalise the experience for the reader knees spread wide and the water is hiding limbo limbo like me knees spread wide and the dark ground is under me down down down and the drummer is calling me limbo limbo like me Suggests a very vulnerable submissive position Use of single-word lines to emphasise movement and rhythm
sun coming up and the drummers are praising me out of the dark and the dumb gods are raising me up up up and the music is saving me hot slow step on the burning ground. Who are these ‘gods’ and why are they dumb? Poem’s pace slows where poet suggests some sort of ‘salvation’ Final full stop is the only punctuation in the poem The rhythm ends here, completing the narrative