Miss Lou, the de­fender of Ja­maican cul­ture

Jamaica Gleaner - - MESSAGES - Ja­son Cross Gleaner Writer

Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange (right), min­is­ter of cul­ture, gen­der af­fairs, en­ter­tain­ment and sport, greets Miss Lou’s son, Fabian Cover­ley (cen­tre), and Pro­fes­sor Mervyn Mor­ris (left), Poet Lau­re­ate of Ja­maica, at the re­cent launch of Miss Lou Archives at the Na­tional Li­brary of Ja­maica.

GET­TING MANY of Ja­maica’s colo­nially ed­u­cated per­sons to value as­pects of Ja­maican Her­itage was a task that Louise Ben­nett-Cover­ley (‘Miss Lou’) stuck to through­out her life, de­spite much op­po­si­tion.

Miss Lou, who was a poet, writer and folk­lorist, was chas­tised, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the ear­lier stages of her ca­reer, for the lan­guage she used in her work, which many felt did not co­in­cide with what was sup­pos­edly ac­cepted di­alect.

As told by Pro­fes­sor Mervin Mor­ris, Poet Lau­re­ate of Ja­maica, at one of Miss Lou’s early per­for­mances, de­liv­er­ing Cre­ole ma­te­rial, a voice called out from the au­di­ence, “A dat your modda send you a school fah?”

“In 1943 when The Gleaner started pub­lish­ing a col­umn of her verse each week, there were peo­ple writ­ing to say no one will be able to speak the stan­dard lan­guage (English) if Louise Ben­nett is al­lowed to con­tinue. But she said, ‘mi never tek no­tice, and The Gleaner never tek no­tice, be­cause Gleaner was a sell’,” Mor­ris told a gath­er­ing at the launch of the Louise Ben­nett Archives at the Na­tional Li­brary of Ja­maica last Fri­day.

To Mor­ris, Miss Lou was a pro­foundly in­flu­en­tial fig­ure in the de­vel­op­ment of our self­con­fi­dence as a peo­ple. She was seen as some­one who spoke the Ja­maican lan­guage with love, and one who rep­re­sented her peo­ple well.

NA­TION­AL­ISM

“She in­ves­ti­gated and taught Ja­maicans about the be­liefs and prac­tices in­her­ited from African an­ces­tors, which were trans­planted in the Caribbean. Miss Lou’s na­tion­al­ism did not seek to ex­clude. Its mis­sion was to deepen self-recog­ni­tion and to en­cour­age re­spect. She was also a dili­gent re­searcher who be­came an author­ity on Ja­maican lan­guage and cul­ture, and she was a sen­si­tive teacher, for­mally and in­for­mally, of adults as well as chil­dren,” Mor­ris said.

Miss Lou sim­ply pro­moted a lan­guage that most of the peo­ple of Ja­maica could un­der­stand and re­late to.

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