Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pure Heroine

“Meow” means “woof” in cat.”  ― George Carlin

Jamaica is a small island nation, the fifth largest in the Caribbean with 2.7 million inhabitants. The indigenous people, the Taíno, called it Xaymaca in Arawakan, meaning the "Land of Wood and Water" or the "Land of Springs". Among other things, Jamaica is famous for it's Reggae music and the highest murder rate in the region. We boast about many popular Jamaicans and the work they have done for the world to see. Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, et al. But too often we overlook the heroes at home who have helped shaped our nation and put aspects of our culture on the map.

Louise Bennett-Coverley, affectionately called Miss Lou, was a Jamaican poet, folklorist, writer, and educator. She wrote and performed her poems and songs in Jamaican Patois or Creole. She was instrumental in giving our "dialect" a face as well as a spine; giving it literary recognition in its own right as a national language, at the heart of the Jamaican poetic tradition.
While the Jamaican upper classes turned up their noses at the local dialect, Miss Lou was adamant that patois was not 'bad English' as many thought. She insisted, against much opposition, that our language is not vulgar and we should take pride in it. Always with a smile and a clap of her hand she gave selflessly to forward Patois' cause.
DUTTY TOUGH
Sun a shine but tings no bright;
Doah pot a bwile, bickle no nuff;
River flood but water scarce, yawl
Rain a fall but dutty tough.

Tings so bad dat nowadays when
Yuh ask smaddy how dem do
Dem fraid yuh tek it tell dem back,
So dem no answer yuh.

No care omuch we dah work fa
Hard-time still een we shut;
We dah fight, Hard-time a beat we,
Dem might raise we wages, but
One poun gawn awn pon we pay, an

We no feel no merriment
For ten poun gawn pon we food
An ten pound pon we rent!
Saltfish gawn up, mackerel gawn up.
Pork en beef gawn up,
An when rice and butter ready
Dem just go pon holiday!

Claht, boot, pin an needle gawn up’
Ice, bread, taxes, water-rate
Kersene ile, gasolene, gawn up;
An de poun devaluate.
De price of bread gawn up so high
Dat we haffi agree
Fi cut we yeye pon bred an all
Tun dumplin refugee

An all dem marga smaddy weh
Dah gwan like fat is sin
All dem-deh weh dah fas wid me
Ah lef dem to dumpling!

Sun a shine an pot a bwile, but
Things no bright, bickle no nuff
Rain a fall, river dah flood, but,
Water scarce and dutty tough

A grateful nation remembers Miss Lou as one of Jamaica's preeminent cultural ambassadors and a heroine in her own right. Her work has inspired generations of Jamaicans, both at home and in the diaspora. Our local dialect is among one of our proudest exports.

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