Praisesong for the Widow

by Paule Marshall
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In Praisesong for the Widow, what is the significance of the Big Drum Ritual to Avey Johnson, Lebert Joseph, and the people of Grenada and Carriacou?

Lebert Joseph understands the significance of the Big Drum Ritual, which preserves myth, history and religion in a complex expression of Carriacou's culture. Avey Johnson is discovering this ritual for the first time, and finds that it expresses much of the complexity and contradiction she encounters on Carriacou.

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The Big Drum Ritual is central to the culture of Carriacou. It is not only a performance of music and dance, but a religious rite and historical record. There are hundreds of song texts associated with the ritual, not to mention encoded rhythms which preserve the history of the African...

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The Big Drum Ritual is central to the culture of Carriacou. It is not only a performance of music and dance, but a religious rite and historical record. There are hundreds of song texts associated with the ritual, not to mention encoded rhythms which preserve the history of the African nations who inhabited Carriacou in the early eighteenth century. As well as expressing ancient myths and history through the medium of dance, the ritual is a living art form, which continues to develop. It brought African history to the Caribbean, recorded the horrors of the Middle Passage and enslavement, and now incorporates the modern history of the island.

In Praisesong for the Widow, Lebert Joseph is the direct inheritor of this ritual tradition. He is deeply aware of the history of Grenada and Carriacou, and proud of his descent from the Chamba nation in Africa. He knows the ritual music, and dances despite his age and his limp. Avey Johnson, by contrast, is discovering this African and Caribbean heritage for the first time. The Big Drum Ritual brings together many aspects of Carriacou's culture which make a strong impression on her, from the colorful, festive atmosphere to the memory of enslavement which prompts her meditations on the Middle Passage.

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