Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth: Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite


Will you make it to the other side?

It’s amazing how many aspects of my culture and other cultures, too, are either hidden or diluted. One, for example, is the limbo dance that originated in Trinidad and Tobago. For many, it is only a fun dance game in which you try to pass under a long horizontal stick while bending over backwards and each time you pass the stick is lowered. But the dance has a deeper meaning as the video above mentions. It is similar to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness or afrofuturism’s exploration of hybridity, that unstable feeling of in-betweenness. Edward Kamau Brathwaite, who is from my mother’s home island of Barbados, captures the essence of the limbo feeling during the transatlantic trip. For more on limbo, here is Wilson Harris’ “History, Fable and Myth,” in which he discusses the limbo, anansi and Hatian Vodun as phantom limbs — attempts to reconstruct a dismembered god — as well as act as gateways to the new world.

Limbo

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 steady

limbo
limbo like me

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 deck is slavery

stick is the whip
and the dark deck is slavery

limbo
limbo like me

drum stick knock
and the darkness is over me

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

sun coming up
and the drummers are praising me

out of the dark
and the dumb god are raising me

up
up
up

and the music is saving me

hot
slow
step

on the burning ground.

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