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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Divisions of a different vein: expressions of African affinity in Afro-Caribbean and African-American poetry Swanigan, Pamela

Abstract

This thesis examines whether Afro-Caribbean, poets of the English-speaking West Indies and black American poets express differences in their sense of Africa and of being African-descended, and, if so, what the nature of those differences might be. Section I constitutes a brief overview of the slave histories in both regions, so as to suggest some political and sociological bases for the divergent literary expressions of Africa that might emerge. Sections II and III explore a range of written and oral poems, from both regions, that have Africa as a theme or a central reference. In these sections, the pattern that emerges is that West Indian poets generally employ strong and concrete topographical, political, religious and historical images of Africa, and increasingly, over the course of the twentieth century, accept and incorporate the West African component of their racial heritage, whereas black American poets show a vague sense of Africa as a place, refer more often to North Africa (and specifically Pharaohic Egypt, via parallels between the Mosaic era of the Old Testament and the American slave period) than to West African, and, overall, only connect their experiences of being "black" in America explicitly to their West African origins at a couple of points in their poetic history-during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and the Black Power era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The conclusion suggests that acknowledging and understanding these poetic divergences, as well as the attendant and underlying historical and social divergences, might help ease the tensions that are currently mounting between the black American and West Indian peoples.

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