Thursday, April 19, 2007

Limbo Gateway

"The limbo dance is a well-known feature in the Carnival life of the West Indies today... The limbo dancer moves under a bar which is gradually lowered until a mere slit of space, it seems, remains through which with spread-eagled limbs he passes like a spider.

Limbo was born, it is said, on the slave ships of the Middle Passage. There was so little space that the slaves contorted themselves into human spiders. Limbo, therefore, as Edward Brathwaite, the distinguished Barbadian-born poet, has pointed out, is related to anancy or spider fables. If I may now quote from Islands, the last book in his trilogy:

'drum stick knock / and the darkness is over me /knees spread wide / and the water is hiding me / limbo / limbo like me'

Limbo then reflects a certain kind of gateway or threshold to a new world and the dislocation of a chain of miles... I recall performances I witnessed as a boy in Georgetown, British Guiana, in the early 1930s. Some of the performers danced on high stilts like elongated limbs while others performed spread-eagled on the ground. In this way limbo spider and stilted pole of the gods were related to the drums like grassroots and branches of lightning to the sound of thunder"

From 'History, Fable and Myth in the Caribbean and Guianas' by Wilson Harris (1970)

1 comment:

ne ne said...

great pairing of image and quote. thank you.