Today, the Honourable Edward Kamau Brathwaite was eulogized as a great poet, author and literary titan but his son Michael Brathwaite remembered him simply as “daddy” who was gifted with an incredible calming presence.
Struggling to hold back the tears, an emotional Michael said his father, who died on February 4 at age 89, had the capacity to invoke love, respect and understanding all at the same time.
He shared this side of his dad with those who gathered for the noted poet’s official funeral which was attended by Governor General Dame Sandra Mason and Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, along with several other government officials and other dignitaries, at the James Street Methodist Church, in The City.
Brathwaite’s family and friends also participated in the service which was filled with tributes, hymns and the beat of the drum which the deceased adored.
“Daddy was always learning and teaching. He had a hunger for perfection.
“I remember as a child hearing him in his study in England or Jamaica recording and re-recording his poetry to the rhythms of jazz, the African drum beats, reggae music until he got every beat and syllable. I feel like through osmosis, I was his student. The writing gene may have passed by me, but intuitively studying his personality, his work ethic, his social skills and fathering, his interactions with relatives and friends, his drive for success, I know that he instilled much in me,” he said.
Michael said through his poetry and writing Brathwaite wanted the world to know and appreciate the culture of African and Caribbean people.
“Through that, I learned to appreciate and to be proud of my culture, heritage and people. His zest for learning took him far and wide. But he never lost sight of the fact that Barbados was his home and always wanted to return to the soil of his birth,” he said.
Michael also recalled that his father took him and his mother to the hills in St Andrew and other parts of the island on Saturday or Sunday evenings with a picnic lunch.
“The gene that fuelled his love for prose may not have stuck with me, but I feel like they were passed on to his only grandchild, my daughter Ayesha. Though her style and subject may be different and reflect the generation in which she has grown up, it is evident that her ability to tell stories and paint pictures with words is something that runs through her bloodline,” Michael said.
“As we lay daddy to rest and the world pays tribute to him, I want to let everybody know how proud I am of my father’s accomplishments of the goals he set and achieved and the way he conducted his affairs and lived his life. It might sound to you as if I have my father on a pedestal but that is not the case because I have placed him in my heart forever. I loved my father and my father loved me. I am my father and my father is me. I love you daddy,” he added.
As an educator, Brathwaite shared his knowledge with students at institutions in various parts of the world, including Jamaica, the United States of America, and Ghana where it was said he received a greater understanding of his culture and history.
On behalf of the Government of Barbados, Prime Minister Mottley reiterated her sentiments that Brathwaite was easily one of the titans of post-colonial literature and the arts.
She said his chronicling of the past through his works highlighted the realities of the present, and as a result, guided “our sense of self and national identity”.
Prime Minister Mottley said she came to know Brathwaite, a global quiet warrior, when she served as Minister of Culture, at age 28.
She said Barbados’ presentation at CARIFESTA in Trinidad and Tobago which featured Brathwaite’s seminal work Barabajan will forever be etched in her memory.
“Kamau Brathwaite was a quiet Caribbean revolutionary with Barbadian roots, a passionate warrior fighting against the language, history and culture of our colonizers. His battle, strategic and painstaking, but acquiring foot soldiers, one student at a time, one reader at a time. Kamau didn’t want us so much to rebel and banish English Language and English Literature, as much as he wanted us to acknowledge and embrace the languages and rhythms of Africa, the motherland and ultimately to craft a national identity and to embrace and celebrate our nation language,” Mottley said.
Brathwaite’s friend, Dr The Most Honourable Anthony Gabby Carter spoke about the poet’s vast knowledge about major jazz artistes in the world and how he understood rhythms at a level that others could not comprehend.
Gabby shared a poem he said he took 11 minutes to write about Brathwaite and his work, with the congregation and those watching the live broadcast.
“The glasses sat upon his eyes as though fixated there. Sometimes he’ll peak beneath their walls to give your presence a stare. The beret always omnipresent fits neatly on his head. The pointed nose, wistful smile, your being is being exposed to a man, a mountain, a river of sheer brilliance you feel to prostrate, to bow, for you are in the awesome presence of the great one, Brath, Kamau. A voice that is barely audible escapes his throat, his tongue. No arrogant boastful utterings, but humility flows comes down,” a section of the Gabby’s poem read.
There were several other tributes from actress and producer Cicely Spencer Cross, lecturer/writer Dr Margaret Gill, poet laureate of Barbados Esther Phillips, and Barbados Ambassador to CARICOM David Comissiong, during the service which lasted for almost two hours.
Principal of the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus Professor The Most Honourable Eudine Barriteau said Brathwaite, the keeper of the abeng (the animal horn, a musical instrument), taught at the university for some time, has gone back to the middle passage for the final time to meet his ancestors.
“They will blow the celestial abeng for him, and an African sun will shine upon this proud son,” Professor Barriteau said.
Reverend Adrian Odle, who reminded the congregation that death was an inescapable reality, urged those grieving to be reassured of the promises and comfort in the Word of God.
The preacher said according to the scripture, it was okay to grieve and cry and he encouraged members of the family to do so if they needed to.
“In fact, I want to encourage us not to tell the family not to cry because so often we believe that crying is for those who are weak. But it is a human experience. And the Apostle Paul did not say don’t cry don’t be sad.
“But what the Apostle does say is when you cry, when you are sad; do not cry as though you are like some people who have no hope. You can cry, you can shed your tears,” Reverend Odle said.
Brathwaite’s body was buried at Coral Ridge Memorial Gardens.