A Grenadian proverb states “A new broom sweeps clean, but an old broom knows the corners.” Rafeeke, an Atlanta based Afro-Caribbean writer, may agree with this adage. His words weave the vibrations of Afro-Caribbean and African storytelling forms, from Grenada to Guyana, Kenya, Nigeria and beyond. When I met him on Zoom, his warm and calm spirit met me with the serenity of a light breeze dancing on an ocean wave.
This native New Yorker was born to a Guyanese father and a Grenadian (Kayak) mother. His work has been shaped by his upbringing, which included participation in various Afro-Caribbean cultures, and relationships with other people from sub-cultures of African diaspora. Raafeke’s debut novel, ‘Radiance Lost’, is part one of a series that combines African and Afro-Caribbean mythology to chronicle a young girl’s journey of finding freedom, identifying friends and foes, and other experiences that strengthen her against the hardships of life.
In describing his cultural upbringing, Raafeke says: “To many I am Grenadian. To other Grenadians my family is Kayak, who are people from Carriacou. Carriacou and Grenada retained African traditions well.”
When I inquire about his recent trip to Carriacou, which I saw on his IG highlights, he mentions partaking in an African ceremony that community members do. “We have the Big Drum dance that we do in commemoration of the old parents (ancestors). The whole island comes together with food, drumming and dance. It represents the nations that came together, including tribes like the Akan, Yoruba and Fon. Each person who comes to the circle represents a different group. The song sang to the drum is old African patois. I can’t even understand it.
We also have a Boat Festival, where we bless the boats and pour libation. That’s our way of representing and connecting with our ancestors. Many of these community members are people who will say they are Christians, but still do more African practices.”
Many Afro-Caribbeans arguably retained Africanisms in a more transparent way than other African Diasporan groups, such as African-Americans. In countries like Trinidad and Jamaica, Akan day names like Kofi, and other African names are used.
Raafeke tells me his great-grandmother was the last recorded to have an African name, and after attempting to remember the ancestral name, he gets up and grabs the family tree he is collating. He then speaks truth to his great-grandmother’s name: Nemmie.
Many traditional African cultures use rituals to pay reverence to their ancestors. As enslaved African communities brought their customs to the ‘New World’ with them, the creolization of African tradition allowed these communities to retain religious dignity while adhering to the cultural religion forced upon them. Raafeke describes the African origins of Anglophone Afro-Caribbean religions:
“In the British West Indies we have Obeah, which is like a folk religion that is comparable to African American hoodoo. In Carricou traditionalists mostly worship Shango.”
Raafeke continues traditional African practices by utilizing an ancestor altar. He speaks on the legacy of his grandparents: “My grandfather had power in his words. He was very quiet, but when he spoke the house went quiet. I put ‘Radiance Lost’ on my ancestor altar, and dedicated it to my grandmother.”
In describing the similarities between contemporary cultures of the African diaspora, Raafeke says: “Where I grew up, many of the Black kids around me were Caribbean or Nigerian. Everybody sucks their teeth. That’s one of the biggest things. My Nigerian friends and I are also heavy on cultural pride. Many of us who are first or second generation Americans still speak our cultural dialect or the language with one another. Of course it is watered down, but there is a heavy connection of home being a place you may have never been but have a connection to.”
Caribbeans are known for their hard work ethic. True to his Caribbean nature, Raafeke made the most of uncertain circumstances, and used his COVID-19 stimulus to publish ‘Radiance Lost’. He states: “I finished the book in high school, and I used my stimulus to publish the book. It’s self-published but a third party company helped me with the copyright.”
Merging African and Afro-Caribbean folklore helped Raafeke to better connect the African diaspora through storytelling. He described his utilization of different folklore here: “My book is a watered down idea of what I knew at the time. It incorporates the idea of the ancestors, myths like the South African serpent with the head of an elephant and the idea of a mythological spirit or ‘Jumbee’ in Guyana, although I used ‘Akuko’, the Nigerian word. In the next book I will put a higher focus on the ancestors, and spirits of Guyana that are only known to be in the island.”
In discussing the intended impact of his work, Raafeke says: “The goal of my work is to connect the Diaspora, and continue the legacy of books like Children of Blood and Bone that show the rainbow in Blackness. That’s where my line of work will always lie.”
Raafeke wanted to make his book accessible to varying audiences, so he edited the Patois to make the novel easier to read for more demographics.
In acknowledging the different levels of access that can hinder artists from publishing their work, Raafeke notes: “The ability to use money that is given to you is a privilege. If you are a young person on your own and your money has to go to your bills, don’t beat yourself up. Connect with people.”
Raafeke’s advice to creatives who are trying to publish their projects and expand their audience base is to be proactive: “Reach out to media outlets. If you are lucky, they will reach out to you. I have sold my goal of being sold 100 books and am doing things myself. I had to email many news outlets. If you know your project took a long time to come out, gas it up. Your work always has to hold value to yourself first.
“Invite people to your work. Save everything that you can. You can also research grants and loans. In terms of creatives taking their art to the next level, it is helpful for us to work with each other.”
Buy ‘Radiance Lost’ on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Radiance-Lost-Raafeke-ebook/dp/B08XG595BQ.
Connect with Raafeke on IG, Twitter and Medium @Raafeke.