Thursday, January 05, 2017

Barbados: Tracing Jaja, by Anthony Kellman

It's summer holidays and unseasonably cool, so I have a backlog of completed books to review. Top of the list is my selection for Barbados. Anthony Kellman is a Barbadian poet and novelist, who has written poems in "Tuk verse" based on the rhythms of the island's indigenous music. In Tracing Jaja, he turns his attention to a little known historical episode. The British, seeking control of the palm oil trade in Nigeria, illegally captured Jubo Jubogha, the King of Opobo (King Jaja) and exiled him to the Caribbean.

In Barbados, where they moved him after an initial time in St Vincent, he formed a bond with his young maid, Becka, and she became pregnant to him. Jaja however, longed to return to his home.

Jaja's position in Barbadian society was deeply ambiguous, his status as a king being at odds with the racial prejudice of the time. The book is a well-researched, fairly straight-forward account, enriched with dialogue in the local dialect, which appears to be accurate as far as I could tell. The story is told with great warmth of characterisation.

"Tracing Jaja" was published in 2016 by Peepal Tree Press.

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