On July 26, 2006 we lost a giant, a matriarch whose name is the first to come to our lips when we speak of Jamaica and Jamaican culture. Whichever prep, primary or high school you went to you would have come across at least ONE Miss Lou poem (if you didn’t then your school probably needs to be reported to the ministry of education, lol.)
Dr. The Honourable, Louise Bennett-Coverley O.M, O.J, M.B.E.; basically all letters of the alphabet can be found in her name and titles, and rightly so, since she has revolutionized creole poetry, acting, speech presentation and cultural education in Jamaica and across the world. There was a time when the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) Speech Festival would have perhaps 8 out of every 10 poem entrants doing a piece from Miss Lou.
PATOIS… CREOLE…DIALECT… THE VERNACULAR was her weapon with which she cut down social ills, disparities, inequalities and injustices in the society while putting Jamaica on the map. A few years ago on a trip to Toronto, Canada it was discovered that the Harbourfront Centre, which is located at 235 Queen’s Quay West, and is a cultural non-profit organization, dedicated a room to the work of Louise Bennett-Coverley (she resided there for some time, and was in Canada at the time of her passing).
When first introduced to the word labrish it can sound like a negative thing, gossiping – its most common meaning, however Miss Lou had a way of making it sound like togetherness… she used the “gossiping” aspect of it to symbolize people coming together, but to exchange positive things (in the way of our culture, our heritage and our language). Many Jamaicans still hold the view that speaking Patois is “lower class”, “demeaning”, “unbecoming”… but Miss Lou was a champion for the preservation of the Patois dialect and became a pioneer for code switching (using both standard English and Patois). Although the divide in the language debate will never seem to close, Miss Lou is someone to be respected by all.
This great Jamaican woman, world class poet, multiple award winning writer, actress, wife, mother, and visionary was born on September 7, 1919, and as we continue to celebrate what would have been her 93rd birthday we pause to remember our past… that patois is not just broken English, but is a part of our history, a part of our past we should never forget. The language of the slaves, the language of freedom, the language of power,
In this Jamaica’s 50th year of independence it is fitting to review Miss Lou’s Colonization in Reverse (1966).
“Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie
I feel like me heart gwine burs
Jamaica people colonizin Englan in reverse.
By de hundred, by de tousan
From country and from town,
By de ship-load, by de plane-load
Jamaica is Englan boun.
Dem a pour out a Jamaica
Everybody future plan
Is fe get a big-time job
An settle in de mother lan.
What a islan!
What a people!
Man an woman, old an young
Jus a pack dem bag an baggage
An tun history upside dung!
Some people doan like travel
But fe show dem loyalty
Dem all a open up cheap-fare-To-Englan agency.
An week by week dem shippin off
Dem countryman like fire,
Fe immigrate an populate
De seat a de Empire.
Oonoo see how life is funny,
Oonoo see de tunabout?
Jamaica live fe box bread
Out a English people mout’.
For wen dem ketch a Englan,
An start play dem different role,
Some will settle down to work
An some will settle fe de dole.
Jane say de dole is not too bad
Because dey payin she
Two pounds a week fe seek a job
Dat suit her dignity.
Me say Jane will never fine work
At de rate how she dah look,
For all day she stay pon Aunt Fan couch
An read love-story book.
Wat a devilment a Englan!
Dem face war an brave de worse,
But me wonderin how dem gwine stan
Colonizin in reverse.”