Limbo is a poem written by Edward Kamau Brathwraite about the difficulties faced by the Africans during the slave trade. Brathwraite uses the limbo dance as an extended metaphor and it is a lively, rhythmic poem. This creates more effect as the boat Journey to the Caribbean was a horrible experience for the Africans and all they had to keep their spirits up was the limbo dance. The poem begins with ‘and’ which implies that this was not the start of the slave rade, and that it had been going on for a while.
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There are two main themes at the start of the poem; the limbo dance, and the slave ships. The rhythm in the poem represents the limbo dance drum beat, which contrasts the mood of the poem as it was a sad time and the Africans aboard the slave ships were treated poorly. The limbo dance has an up-beat rhythm with the words ‘limbo, limbo like me’ repeated like a song as they would have been on the slave ships. The beat of the drum on the hip emphasises the monotony and relentlessness of slave labour.
Also, the tribal beat of the limbo dance recalls the slaves’ African roots. The middle section of the poem is like the middle of the voyage to the Caribbean. At this point, the dancer is right under the stick/limbo pole, “Drum stick knock, and the darkness is over me. ” The descriptions of darkness and the slave ships are used to stress the living hell of slavery. The voyage of the ships is used as the long-term plight of generations of slaves.
Also, the use of darkness emphasises Brathwraite’s hatred of the slave trade, and the cruelty the slaves had to suffer. It also shows his anger at the conditions of the cramped slave ship. The final section of the poem, the poet sees as the end of the suffering. This could represent the abolishment of the slave trade or the slaves exiting the slave ship. The conditions of the plantations at the Caribbean would have been a lot better than those of the slave ships which would have been a step up for the slaves.
He comes “out of the dark” although where he ends up is unclear. The poet says “and the music is saving me” which could imply that he is celebrating the survival of the slaves and that he admires the bravery and strength of the slaves. The poet uses many techniques which emphasise the harshness and cruelty of the slave trade. The use of Juxtaposition where the limbo song contrasts the sad tone of the poem creates a deeper effect of the poem. The poem in general is a mixture of emotions, both negative and positive.